Friday, June 20, 2008

What She Did All Day

While out book shopping on this hottest of days, I found Yaffa Claire Draznin's elegant book, Victorian London's Middle-Class Housewife: What She Did All Day, which studies the activities of the housewife of the late 19th century. Draznin provides an in-depth look at how "the real housewives of Victorian London" spent their time in this city in the late 1800's, and became the new consumer class as more modern conveniences were developed. Here you can see the beginnings of today's stay-at-home wife and her influence on society. (Housewife or stay-at-home mother is a misnomer today, though, because most are actually not at home much but have countless activities to attend outside of the home. Personally, I hate the label of housewife and all it evokes--a scattered, overly social woman in frumpy clothing, who spends her days at home watching TV and mixing up casseroles. Instead, I like the image of Joyce Carol Oates, who calls herself a housewife and is also a famous novelist.) With chapters devoted to the business of running a household and several of the roles of London's Victorian housewife--from domestic worker to mother to cook to employer to financial manager to social director to health guardian and so on--Draznin provides a history of late Victorian London, complete with photos and simple, charming illustrations, and gives these women the attention and dignity that they deserve.

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