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The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England

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What was the life of an eighteenth-century British genteel woman like? In this lively and controversial book, Amanda Vickery invokes women’s own accounts of their intimate and their public lives to argue that in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the scope of female experience did not diminish—in fact, quite the reverse. Refuting the common understanding that in What was the life of an eighteenth-century British genteel woman like? In this lively and controversial book, Amanda Vickery invokes women’s own accounts of their intimate and their public lives to argue that in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the scope of female experience did not diminish—in fact, quite the reverse. Refuting the common understanding that in Georgian times the daughters of merchants, the wives of lawyers, and the sisters of gentlemen lost female freedoms and retreated into their homes, Vickery shows that these women experienced expanding social and intellectual horizons. As they embraced a world far beyond the boundaries of their own parishes through their tireless writing and ravenous reading, genteel women also enjoyed an array of emerging new public arenas—assembly rooms, concert series, theater seasons, circulating libraries, day-time lectures, urban walks, and pleasure gardens. Based on the letters, diaries, and account books of over one hundred women from commercial, professional, and gentry families, this book transforms our understanding of the position of women in Georgian England. In their own words, they tell of their sometimes humorous, sometimes moving experiences and desires, and of their many roles, including kinswoman, wife, mother, housekeeper, consumer, hostess, and member of polite society. By the nineteenth century, family duties continued to dominate women’s lives, yet, Vickery contends, the public profile of privileged women had reached unprecedented heights.


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What was the life of an eighteenth-century British genteel woman like? In this lively and controversial book, Amanda Vickery invokes women’s own accounts of their intimate and their public lives to argue that in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the scope of female experience did not diminish—in fact, quite the reverse. Refuting the common understanding that in What was the life of an eighteenth-century British genteel woman like? In this lively and controversial book, Amanda Vickery invokes women’s own accounts of their intimate and their public lives to argue that in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the scope of female experience did not diminish—in fact, quite the reverse. Refuting the common understanding that in Georgian times the daughters of merchants, the wives of lawyers, and the sisters of gentlemen lost female freedoms and retreated into their homes, Vickery shows that these women experienced expanding social and intellectual horizons. As they embraced a world far beyond the boundaries of their own parishes through their tireless writing and ravenous reading, genteel women also enjoyed an array of emerging new public arenas—assembly rooms, concert series, theater seasons, circulating libraries, day-time lectures, urban walks, and pleasure gardens. Based on the letters, diaries, and account books of over one hundred women from commercial, professional, and gentry families, this book transforms our understanding of the position of women in Georgian England. In their own words, they tell of their sometimes humorous, sometimes moving experiences and desires, and of their many roles, including kinswoman, wife, mother, housekeeper, consumer, hostess, and member of polite society. By the nineteenth century, family duties continued to dominate women’s lives, yet, Vickery contends, the public profile of privileged women had reached unprecedented heights.

30 review for The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England

  1. 4 out of 5

    Martine Bailey

    This is a spectacular book of historical research into the lives of middle class Georgian women. Taking a sample of women in the Lancashire area, it uses letters, diaries, accounts and pocketbooks to build a picture of genteel lives in which marriage was the most dangerous and crucial decision faced in life. A mix of sad and satisfying lives are documented, along with the kinds of insights and facts that a novelist could not imagine (and the illustrations are also fascinating and beautiful). I l This is a spectacular book of historical research into the lives of middle class Georgian women. Taking a sample of women in the Lancashire area, it uses letters, diaries, accounts and pocketbooks to build a picture of genteel lives in which marriage was the most dangerous and crucial decision faced in life. A mix of sad and satisfying lives are documented, along with the kinds of insights and facts that a novelist could not imagine (and the illustrations are also fascinating and beautiful). I loved it and use it as a regular reference book. The bibliography and footnotes are also excellent, leading to yet more delights and the chance to explore some wonderful primary sources.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jada Roche

    Dear sweet crap it took me forever to finish this. Not because the subject matter is bad-it's not. It's fascinating, which is why I picked this up. But this must be the driest bloody book I've read, a thesis turned into a book. Any time it became compelling the author basically made it dry again. Maybe it's just me but the writing style left a LOT to be desired. And I really would have liked to see the other sides of the stories as well-granted this is about the upper class/genteel ladies, but i Dear sweet crap it took me forever to finish this. Not because the subject matter is bad-it's not. It's fascinating, which is why I picked this up. But this must be the driest bloody book I've read, a thesis turned into a book. Any time it became compelling the author basically made it dry again. Maybe it's just me but the writing style left a LOT to be desired. And I really would have liked to see the other sides of the stories as well-granted this is about the upper class/genteel ladies, but it felt really one dimensional despite the clear familiarity with the period. This could have been a lot better, and was a bit of a disappointment.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sophie Turner

    This would have been a four-star book if I had purchased a physical copy, but I paid for the Kindle edition. None of the photo rights were acquired for the Kindle edition, and photos were pretty numerous, so I saw quite a lot of empty grey boxes with notes that the rights had not been acquired, and the price difference between the Kindle and the paperback does not make up for this. If you're going to offer a book on Kindle, offer the WHOLE book. I don't feel like I got the complete book because This would have been a four-star book if I had purchased a physical copy, but I paid for the Kindle edition. None of the photo rights were acquired for the Kindle edition, and photos were pretty numerous, so I saw quite a lot of empty grey boxes with notes that the rights had not been acquired, and the price difference between the Kindle and the paperback does not make up for this. If you're going to offer a book on Kindle, offer the WHOLE book. I don't feel like I got the complete book because I missed all of the pictures that should have been illustrating the points. In terms of written content, I didn't find Vickery's prose quite so dense as a previous book of hers I've read, but it's still fairly dense. As usual, the research is excellent and the central thesis compelling.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    Very readable examination of the lived experience of women's lives. Vickery's focus is women from the provincial gentry, specifically a group of women from or with links to northern England whose letters and diaries survive. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on courtship, marriage, and domestic life, with their wealth of tangible detail. As Vickery repeatedly points out, these were conventional women, not rebels, who sought to fulfill their roles as women in the world in ways that made sense t Very readable examination of the lived experience of women's lives. Vickery's focus is women from the provincial gentry, specifically a group of women from or with links to northern England whose letters and diaries survive. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on courtship, marriage, and domestic life, with their wealth of tangible detail. As Vickery repeatedly points out, these were conventional women, not rebels, who sought to fulfill their roles as women in the world in ways that made sense to them and their communities.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Elliot A

    Part of my ongoing research in preparation for my graduate thesis. This is the second book by Vickery I have read during my research. Sadly, both books did not contain anything that could help me with my research, but that does not mean the books were not good. Just like the last one, this one contained a wealth of information that was presented in a very interesting and personal way. I was invested in what the author had to share, and it was engaging. Regardless of the fact that I can’t use speci Part of my ongoing research in preparation for my graduate thesis. This is the second book by Vickery I have read during my research. Sadly, both books did not contain anything that could help me with my research, but that does not mean the books were not good. Just like the last one, this one contained a wealth of information that was presented in a very interesting and personal way. I was invested in what the author had to share, and it was engaging. Regardless of the fact that I can’t use specific details the author presents in her book, I am able to use the book as a whole to prove a part of my point/bigger argument during the future composition of my thesis. Overall, I truly enjoy the author’s writing style and skill of bringing history to life. I would recommend it to anyone, who has an interest in women’s lives during the Georgian era. ElliotScribbles

  6. 4 out of 5

    Clelixedda

    I read this book in the hope to gather some historical background knowledge to better understand Jane Austen’s novels and other books from this period. I got that, although this is definitely not the main intention of this book. It is very scholarly written, which does not make it a relaxing read. Nevertheless, I did not find it dry or boring, but rather interesting and educational. Next time I read it (which I’m quite sure I’ll do) I hope I have more time to pay attention to the notes and vario I read this book in the hope to gather some historical background knowledge to better understand Jane Austen’s novels and other books from this period. I got that, although this is definitely not the main intention of this book. It is very scholarly written, which does not make it a relaxing read. Nevertheless, I did not find it dry or boring, but rather interesting and educational. Next time I read it (which I’m quite sure I’ll do) I hope I have more time to pay attention to the notes and various appendices.

  7. 4 out of 5

    MaryBliss

    Amazingly thorough, well-documented, readable piece of research on women's lives in Georgian England, full of fascinating quotes from primary sources. It should be a foundational element in any historian's understanding of the era and an essential text for any student of women's studies. Vickery's debunking of some of the current conventional thinking about women's roles in Georgian society is excellently done. Amazingly thorough, well-documented, readable piece of research on women's lives in Georgian England, full of fascinating quotes from primary sources. It should be a foundational element in any historian's understanding of the era and an essential text for any student of women's studies. Vickery's debunking of some of the current conventional thinking about women's roles in Georgian society is excellently done.

  8. 5 out of 5

    J

    I bought this book to find out more about how the women Jane Austen wrote about actually lived, what their pursuits, standing and pleasures were in society. Content wise, the book does not disappoint. Vickery has done her research and puts together a convincing, fascinating picture of genteel women's lives in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The rating is only three stars because the book is very hard to read. It's very "dry and scientific" in its feel and wording. This is not a bad thing per se, b I bought this book to find out more about how the women Jane Austen wrote about actually lived, what their pursuits, standing and pleasures were in society. Content wise, the book does not disappoint. Vickery has done her research and puts together a convincing, fascinating picture of genteel women's lives in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The rating is only three stars because the book is very hard to read. It's very "dry and scientific" in its feel and wording. This is not a bad thing per se, but it is less enjoyable reading, as you can't get immersed in the feeling of the place, even though this book is based on and echoes the diaries/words of women living at the time. The paperback edition may also lack - it's printed very small and with little spacing between the lines. There were also a few typos and omitted words, particularly in the latter chapters, which makes me pause as it breaks my reading flow. Not awful, but noticeable. I would recommend this if you are a scholar of either Jane Austen's time or of women's history; the content and information are excellent.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Found this book on my sister's bookshelf and she said it was good so I've spent the last week reading it. It was good but as others have noted, it is not a fast read. Using various papers (mostly diaries and letters) of gentlewomen who lived in the English counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire from approximately 1720-1820, this is a scholarly work (and definitely has the tiny print to prove it!). These women come from the upper or actually middle classes of the time. They aren't the nobility but Found this book on my sister's bookshelf and she said it was good so I've spent the last week reading it. It was good but as others have noted, it is not a fast read. Using various papers (mostly diaries and letters) of gentlewomen who lived in the English counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire from approximately 1720-1820, this is a scholarly work (and definitely has the tiny print to prove it!). These women come from the upper or actually middle classes of the time. They aren't the nobility but they are either from families of landowners or the professions or the clergy as well as the well off working class (who often became land owners). Although usually only schooled at home, the women were literate. This book gives us an entrance into their lives, both privately and publicly and it was interesting.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    This was not an 'easy' read by any stretch, but it was interesting and there was tons of information for anyone seeking to know more about the lives of women back in the Georgian era. But if you love to read history, and you love to read social history, this is a great book. This was not an 'easy' read by any stretch, but it was interesting and there was tons of information for anyone seeking to know more about the lives of women back in the Georgian era. But if you love to read history, and you love to read social history, this is a great book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Judith

    This book is ground-breaking research into the lives of women of the gentry, the same social class as that of Jane Austen. if you want to know what skills and responsibilities Elizabeth and Jane and Mrs Bennett, etc., would have to run a household, this is the book that will tell you and tell you more, as well. Vickery has used letters, diaries, and account books of more than 100 women in northern counties that show women could be very well educated; thrifty consumers; and engaged in an extensiv This book is ground-breaking research into the lives of women of the gentry, the same social class as that of Jane Austen. if you want to know what skills and responsibilities Elizabeth and Jane and Mrs Bennett, etc., would have to run a household, this is the book that will tell you and tell you more, as well. Vickery has used letters, diaries, and account books of more than 100 women in northern counties that show women could be very well educated; thrifty consumers; and engaged in an extensive social life in the provinces and in London and other fashionable resorts, attending day-time lectures as well as balls. i was intrigued by the debating societies women set up, as well run by the women as was Almacks, where they debated such questions as whether the marriage ceremony's words "to obey" their husbands had an exemptions (and for some of these very feisty women I bet there were exemptions). illustrated. Highly recommended, but this is a well-researched book and not "pop" reading.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Adler

    An absolutely beautiful, invaluable piece of research on a very particular aspect of women's history. Vickery gives the reader an almost intimate insight into the real lives, emotions, world views, hopes, fears, strengths, and weaknesses of the genteel Georgian woman, drawing from pocket books, letters, diary entries, and various other written sources. She compiled a laudable overview not only of Georgian higher society, but the rich inner lives of the women who partook in it. At times amusing, An absolutely beautiful, invaluable piece of research on a very particular aspect of women's history. Vickery gives the reader an almost intimate insight into the real lives, emotions, world views, hopes, fears, strengths, and weaknesses of the genteel Georgian woman, drawing from pocket books, letters, diary entries, and various other written sources. She compiled a laudable overview not only of Georgian higher society, but the rich inner lives of the women who partook in it. At times amusing, heartbreaking, enraging, fascinating, but always extremely educational, "The Gentleman's Daughter" offers a thorough read that is deftly packed with information and will make even the most reluctant reader understand that the Georgian gentlewoman was many things, but never the cultural parasite history has long portrayed her as.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    As many reviews have said, it is a really dry read. It's an academic work, thoroughly researched, with countless quotations from the diaries and letters of the women it focuses on (especially one Elizabeth Parker then Shackleton), and from books of the period, but that's exactly what makes it a bit tough for a casual reader: the flow of the writing is constantly interrupted, and the 18th century style slows you down. I love history and I was interested in reading about the period during which one As many reviews have said, it is a really dry read. It's an academic work, thoroughly researched, with countless quotations from the diaries and letters of the women it focuses on (especially one Elizabeth Parker then Shackleton), and from books of the period, but that's exactly what makes it a bit tough for a casual reader: the flow of the writing is constantly interrupted, and the 18th century style slows you down. I love history and I was interested in reading about the period during which one of my favourite writers lived and worked, and I definitely got a better understanding of what life was for what we would call today an upper-middle class woman during the Georgian period, but still I had quite a hard time getting through this.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor

    Really interesting and thorough, if also dense, examination of "genteel" women's lives in the eighteenth century: courtship, marriage, separation, childbirth, public diversion, housekeeping, education, business, are all covered. This edition has some rather unaccountable typographical problems, mostly to do with a lack of commas (or commas where there should be semicolons), which makes it difficult to read, but if you're into social history or the eighteenth century at all--literarily as well as Really interesting and thorough, if also dense, examination of "genteel" women's lives in the eighteenth century: courtship, marriage, separation, childbirth, public diversion, housekeeping, education, business, are all covered. This edition has some rather unaccountable typographical problems, mostly to do with a lack of commas (or commas where there should be semicolons), which makes it difficult to read, but if you're into social history or the eighteenth century at all--literarily as well as historically--it's well worth it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Deirdre

    It looks like an interesting in-depth account of Women's lives in Upper-class Georgian England; however I'm not in the mindset to dig through this book. If I was going to write fiction based in this era this would be an invaluable resource and with the extensive index, citations and bibliography this would be a very useful resource. I didn't read it through, so I'm not going to give it any stars. What little I did read would probably merit at least 4/5 * It looks like an interesting in-depth account of Women's lives in Upper-class Georgian England; however I'm not in the mindset to dig through this book. If I was going to write fiction based in this era this would be an invaluable resource and with the extensive index, citations and bibliography this would be a very useful resource. I didn't read it through, so I'm not going to give it any stars. What little I did read would probably merit at least 4/5 *

  16. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This is a carefully researched and well written social history of women in 18th century England. Using primary sources like letters, Amanda Vickery makes this history really come alive for anyone interested in the history of the period.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin Chambers

    I love the information Vickery shoves into the pages and most of the creative and intertwining word play. I love how personal the information seems. The only thing I don't like about it is that the structure is a bit erratic at times, and overly repetitive is some parts. I love the information Vickery shoves into the pages and most of the creative and intertwining word play. I love how personal the information seems. The only thing I don't like about it is that the structure is a bit erratic at times, and overly repetitive is some parts.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Markus

    A little on the academic side, but full of lively anecdotes and solid information. Great for the researcher and/or hardcore Jane Austen fan.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joanne

    A lot of interesting information, but I would have preferred to read the various diaries themselves. I felt like I was back in school. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) A lot of interesting information, but I would have preferred to read the various diaries themselves. I felt like I was back in school. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

  20. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    I found the book itself very interesting. It was more academic than I expected but not the worse for that. What was extremely disappointing was reading this on my Kindle and constantly being confronted by grey boxes saying if I wanted to see the pictures I should consult the physical hard copy. Either acquire the photo rights for the Kindle version or edit out the references to the images. As it was it felt like a substandard and second rate reading experience.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lily C

    Its amazing what a trained historian can deduce from letters, diaries , accounts and receipts. Interesting.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Fascinating and enlightening look at the lives of upper-middle-classish women in the 18th-19th centuries through their correspondence and diaries.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Patchin

    Interesting information about the period, but, as should be expected with an academic work, it was very detailed.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mary Beth

    Good information but couldn’t read it straight through. Read more like a text book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    I really enjoyed learning about the lives of Georgian era women. It was a good variety of people and economic statuses. I enjoyed peeking into the past with this one.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Igenlode Wordsmith

    A really scholarly work of research based on primary sources, and very readable to boot.

  27. 4 out of 5

    sminismoni

    Too dry and academic for me. A chore to read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Susannah Shepherd

    This book provides an excellent insight into the lives of a group of genteel English women living outside the metropolis in Georgian times. Amanda Vickery manages to turn the experiences of a relatively small group of women, mostly connected to each other, into an impressively broad story of different life stages and emotional experiences, often through their own words.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    It took me two months to finish this "DRY" non-fiction book on the lives of Georgian, England's (18th century) upper class women. I'm sure they are using this book as a college textbook somewhere. You have to hand it to this author...the research that must have been involved! Even though the reading was slow going and even boring in many places, I have to give it 5 stars if nothing else but a tribute to the author for even attempting such a novel. It took me two months to finish this "DRY" non-fiction book on the lives of Georgian, England's (18th century) upper class women. I'm sure they are using this book as a college textbook somewhere. You have to hand it to this author...the research that must have been involved! Even though the reading was slow going and even boring in many places, I have to give it 5 stars if nothing else but a tribute to the author for even attempting such a novel.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

    While extremely informative, the text can be dry and too didactic at times. However, when the author gives the narration over to the women she is studying, the book becomes immediately engrossing. An extremely well-planned, well-organized, well-researched book. I could not read it while trying to relax, however.

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