History 298: The Role of Women and Domesticity in Victorian England

Separate Spheres: Selected Secondary Sources

Listed below are three important secondary works on my HIST 298 project pertaining to Victorian Domestic Ideology.

Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall’s 1987 work Family Fortunes is a seminal work in the field of gender studies and British women’s history. While the main arguments of the work that women existed in a separate social sphere from men have since then been disputed from 21st-century scholars, the work continues to be a cornerstone text in the genre.
One important work that disputes the claims regarding separate spheres is Eleanor Gordon and Gwyneth Nair’s 2004 book Public Lives. This work draws on quantitative primary sources, including private journals, diaries, and census data in order to conclude that Victorian women experienced a greater deal of freedom and opportunities for self-expression that scholars previously stated. This work specifically cites the prominence of non-traditional household structures in urban areas as well as the prevalence of extended engagements to reshape public understanding of Victorian middle and upper-class women.
Additionally, Kay Boardman’s 2000 article “The Ideology of Domesticity” further adds to the complexities of historians understanding regarding gender identity and the promotion of domesticity, finding itself in the middle ground of the separate spheres debate. Boardman agrees with notions stated in Family Fortunes that the promotion of women’s domesticity enforced a middle-class hegemony that was important to British class hegemony, all while touching on additional complexities of the matter. Interestingly, just like Family Fortunes, Boardman uses literary works of fiction and nonfiction as primary sources, rather than quantitative data.
Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle-Class 1780-1850. 1987.

Leonore Davidoff (1932-2014) was a feminist historian and sociologist whose writings helped form the foundations of modern women’s history and gender studies. Writing until close to her 80th birthday, Davidoff wrote numerous works regarding sociology and women’s history and was highly active in the London Feminist History Group.

Catherine Hall’s (Born 1946)  research focusses on the relationship between Britain and its empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with a particular focus on English identities. In addition to her work alongside Leonore Davidoff on Family Fortunes, Hall served as the Principal Investigator of the Legacies of British Slave Owenrship project from 2004-2012

Gordon, Eleanor, and Gwyneth Nair. Public Lives: Women, Family, and Society in Victorian Britain. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.

Eleanor Gordon serves as a senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow in their Department of Economic and Social History. Gwyneth Nair is a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Paisley. The two have worked together for over 30 years on projects related to British family life, marriage, work, and leisure.

Boardman, Kay. “The Ideology of Domesticity: The Regulation of the Household Economy in Victorian Women’s Magazines.” Victorian Periodicals Review 33, no. 2 (2000): 150-150-64. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20083724

Kay Boardman has worked on a variety of articles and literature surrounding Victorian periodicals and women’s writing. Her works have appeared in British and American journals, including Victorian Studies, and Victorian Review. Boardman is a graduate of Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Strathclyde and has taught at numerous universities across the United Kingdom.

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