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Rae, a friend of AustenOnly,and someone who will be already known to some of you, was lucky enough to go to Amanda Vickery’s Lecture at the Georgian Group’s headquarters this week.  She kindly consented to write a report of it for me, and so I have great pleasure in posting it here for you all to read.

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Amanda Vickery ,23 February 2010

Amanda Vickery gave an animated and fascinating lecture based on her recent book ‘Behind Closed Doors‘ to a packed room at the Georgian group. She began by describing the ways in which the rituals of ‘visiting’ both transformed and reflected polite society in Georgian England.

(A Family at Tea circa 1725)

The role of tea and its associated paraphernalia was illustrated by slides of the range of teapots in circulation and a discussion of the commodification of that paraphernalia – the search by silversmiths in the early part of the century for ways to cash in on the drink’s popularity led to the disaster of silver handled pots and silver cups – and the development of what we now instantly recognize as the shape of a teapot.

Another lovely slide showed an accounting book for visiting, with all the socially important addresses in London and columns for the recording ‘in’ and ‘out’ of cards. I particularly enjoyed her description, in the Q&A session, of the ‘set dressing’ that went on for many households. Houses or apartments taken for the season might be freshly papered for tenants, and furniture could be rented by the season.

(An English Family at Tea by Jospeh van Aken circa 1720)

Beyond this, she provided an analysis of the gendered nature of domestic life, often made visible to us now through instances of the norms and expectations of marital relations being denied or failed; the sad letters of wives whose husbands did not allow them the expected authority to order either the home or the activities within it. More happily many other couples shared the rights and responsibilities of setting up home (a man’s seriousness and willingness in discussing such things before marriage was an omen for the future) and she reminded us that there was no suggestion of effeminacy in a man’s taking an interest in choosing and decorating the home.

The Dinner-Locust or the Advantages of a Keen Scent from “Behind Closed Doors”

Her work is particularly interesting for the way she explores masculinity, and an important insight she gives us is into the significance of marriage and the home to men. We are familiar with their importance in the lives of women, particularly those Austen women we all love and care about, but she reminds us that a bachelor’s lot was seen as a rather limited one, and that marriage, with its accompanying establishment of a home, was as much the gateway to adulthood for men as it was for women.

(James Farrell Phillips by Zoffany)

‘Behind Closed Doors’ is a joy of a book, full of detailed and evidenced insights (how could we not love a book which uses Jane Austen as a primary source?) and Amanda Vickery’s lecture was an excellent elaboration and discussion of its themes.

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Thank you so much ,Rae for your considered and detailed report of what must have been a fabulous lecture. Behind Closed Doors has very quickly become one of my favourite books on this era(I only wish it were available on Kindle then I’d have it with me always!)and I think you will join me in recommending it highly.

Thank you so much once again for allowing us all to share your wonderful experience.

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