The Predominance of the Middle–Class Ideal
The Predominance of the Middle-Class Ideal
The Rise of the Bourgeoisie Divisions among the social classes became exacerbated during the industrial era, during which the prototypical modern family emerged among the middle and professional classes. The bourgeois family is defined primarily by its ability to generate income and by its strict division of gender roles. The ideal middle-class family had a single wageearning male at its head, a mother who could afford to remain at home to manage the household and raise the children, and at least one servant, who cleaned the home and served the needs of the mother and family. In this model, the place of production was separated from the home. The family, and especially the children, were cushioned from public life and protected by the parents. Nineteenth-century artwork frequently depicts these family relationships, particularly the relationship between mother and children, within the protective confines of the home or outdoors in gardens and other nature scenes.
Separate Spheres As the workplace and the home became increasingly separated, an ideology of separate spheres developed to define the proper roles of people and spaces within and outside of the home. Eighteenth-and nineteenth-century scientific ideas about the “natural roles” of men and women, combined with the revitalization of evangelical ideas equating godliness with knowing one’s proper place and role in society, helped to make separate spheres a normal part of family life. Hannah More (1745–1833), an evangelical English writer, believed that one’s biology signaled an obligation to perform specific tasks to please God and to maintain society properly. Women were ideally to remain in the private domain, where they could perform their maternal functions. Women’s virtue was defined by their ability to provide a safe home environment for their children and husbands that would nurture a new generation of citizens. These obligations developed into what historians call a “cult of domesticity,” in which middle-class society viewed the home as a safe haven from the rest of the industrial world. Middle-class male work and political interests, it was believed, naturally made men public figures. Their identity was structured around their work ethic and their political functions. Working-class people also contributed to the creation of separate spheres. Working males had their own public culture, which was most identifiable in their workplace and union activities but also in the leisure hours they spent drinking at local taverns and pubs.
Family Meal Rituals. Middle-class family life was organized according to a series of mealtime rituals that defined the member’s place in the family and helped reaffirm family and social ties. Meals were designed so that the entire family might enjoy them together. Mothers were instructed to provide wholesome meals that would keep the children healthy and keep the husband at home. A French nineteenth-century housewifery manual insisted, “Care should be taken with the honors of the dinner table not only when you have guests but also for your husband’s sake, in order to make life at home more civilized.” In the preface to The Book of Household Management (1861) Isabella Beeton (1836–1865) told her readers, “Men are now so well served out of doors,—at their clubs, well-ordered taverns, and dining houses, that in order to compete with the attractions of these places, a mistress must be thoroughly acquainted with the theory and practice of cookery, as well as be perfectly conversant with all the other arts of making and keeping a comfortable home.” Sunday meals were the most important of all weekly gatherings and were often followed by a promenade to the local park. The bourgeois annual calendar was filled with other holidays that had religious origins and were celebrated within the family.
Historian Martine Segalen developed a chart to describe how the nineteenth-century middle class divided activities and even emotional qualities into private and public spheres:
|Private Sphere||Public Sphere|
|Source: Martine Segalen, “The Family in the Industrial Revolution,” in The Impact of Modernity, volume 2 of A History of the Family, edited by André Burguière, Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Segalen, and Françoise Zonabend, translated by Sarah Hanbury Tenison, Rosemary Morris, and Andrew Wilson (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 400–401.|
|Leisure time||Working time|
|Personal and intimate relationships||Impersonal and anonymous relationships|
|Legitimate love and sexuality||Illegitimate sexuality|
|Feeling and irrationality||Rationality and efficiency|
|Warmth, light, and softness, harmony and wholeness||Division and dissonance|
|Natural and sincere life||Artificial and affected life|
The Happy Home. Family homes are influenced by contemporary social and cultural life. Families in preindustrial European societies lived in two- or threeroom dwellings; several family members often shared the same bedroom and in some cases the same bed. In
Religious evangelicals such as Thomas Gisborne (1758–1846) and Hannah More (1745—1833) in England believed that only a reinvigorated Christianity would help to stem the evils of the Industrial Revolution. For Gisborne one important means of creating a new sense of security was a reaffirmation of the maternal role that he believed was natural to wives and mothers. In his An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex (1797) Gisborne emphasizes the proper management of the household, contributing to the new “cult of domesticity” that became popular at the turn of the nineteenth century:
Are you then the mistress of the family? Fulfill the charge for which you are responsible. Attempt not to transfer your proper occupation to a favorite maid, however tried may be her fidelity and her skill. To confide implicitly in servants, is the way to render them undeserving of confidence. If they are already negligent or dishonest, your remissness encourages their faults, while it continues your own loss and inconvenience. If their integrity is unsullied, they are ignorant of the principles by which your expenses ought to be regulated; and will act for you on other principles, which, if you knew them, you ought to disapprove. They know not the amount of your husband’s income, or of his debts, or of his other incumbrances; nor, if they knew all these things, could they judge what part of his revenue may reasonably be expended in the departments with which they are concerned. They will not reflect that small degrees of waste and extravagance, when they could easily be guarded against, are criminal; nor will they suspect the magnitude of the sum to which small degrees of waste and extravagance, frequently repeated, will accumulate in the course of the year. They will consider the credit of your character as intrusted to them; and will conceive, that they uphold it by profusion. The larger your family is, the greater will be the annual portion of your expenditure, which will, by these means, be thrown away. And if your ample fortune inclines you to regard the sum as scarcely worth the little trouble which would have been required to prevent the loss; consider the extent of good which it might have accomplished, had it been employed in feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Be regular in requiring, and punctual in examining, your weekly accounts. Be frugal without parsimony; save, that you may distribute. Study the comfort of all under your roof, even of the humblest inhabitant of the kitchen. Pinch not the inferior part of the family to provide against the cost of a day of splendor. Consider the welfare of the servants of your own sex as particularly committed to you. Encourage them in religion, and be active in furnishing them with the means of instruction. Let their number be fully adequate to the work which they have to perform; but let it not be swelled either from a love of parade, or from blind indulgence, to an extent which is needless. In those ranks of life where the mind is not accustomed to continued reflection, idleness is a never-failing source of folly and of vice. Forget not to indulge them at fit seasons with visits to their friends; nor grudge the pains of contriving opportunities for the indulgence. Let not one tyrannise over another. In hearing complaints, be patient; in inquiring into faults, be candid; in reproving, be temperate and unruffled. Let not your kindness to the meritorious terminate when they leave your house; but reward good conduct in them, and encourage it in others, by subsequent acts of benevolence adapted to their circumstances. Let it be your resolution, when called upon to describe the characters of servants who have quitted your family, to act conscientiously towards all the parties interested, neither aggravating nor disguising the truth. And never let any one of those whose qualifications are to be mentioned, not of those who apply for the account, find you seduced from your purpose by partiality or by resentment....
Source: Thomas Gisborne, An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex, in Nineteenth-Century Europe: Liberalism and its Criticsy edited by Jan Goldstein and John W. Boyer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), pp. 101–102.
the industrial era, middle-class families began to build larger homes divided into rooms for specific purposes and individual family members. While the typical pre-industrial home had a central room where most family activities occurred, the Victorian home separated public meeting rooms—the parlor and dining room, for example—from the private bedrooms of the children and parents. Rooms were established just for children, while other rooms became spaces for men or women, such as the library for the male and the kitchen for the female. Homes were also surrounded by gardens that separated the family from the public world and symbolically protected the children within their gates. By the mid nineteenth century “Home Sweet Home” had become established as a middle-class motto. For the first time the home was idealized as a secure place away from the workaday realities of the outside world. New interior styles stressed safety and emotional security. While the bourgeois home separated and secluded its residents from the pressures of public life, poor factory families lived in one- or two-room dwellings, often underground in basements with little or no access to fresh air and virtually no privacy for individual family members. Nineteenth-century reformers were shocked to see the living conditions of the working class. They reported stark, dank, and damp living conditions in dwellings occupied by more than one family. This housing was built by private entrepreneurs or by factory owners in open spaces around the towns. Because workers could barely afford the rents on their apartments, they often rented parts of
their small spaces to members of their extended families or friends. While the bourgeois nuclear family was glorified as the new social model, poor families could not afford to live this way. Their extended, multigenerational family models deviated from what their contemporaries perceived as the “normal” practices of life.
André Burguière, Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Martine Segalen, and Francoise Zonabend, eds., The Impact of Modernity, volume 2 of A History of the Family, translated by Sarah Hanbury Tenison, Rosemary Morris, and Andrew Wilson (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996).
Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–1850 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).
Bonnie G. Smith, Ladies of the Leisure Class: The Bourgeoises of Northern France in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981).