The Making of Home by Judith Flanders

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The Making of Home by Judith Flanders

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Category: Lifestyle
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A fact-filled history of how the concept of 'home' evolved over the last three or four centuries
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 346 Date: October 2014
Publisher: Atlantic
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781848877986

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In 1900 a young girl in a strange land told the people around her that she had decided she no longer wanted to live in their lovely country, but would much rather return to the ‘dry, grey’ place she had come from, because there was ‘no place like home’. The girl was Dorothy, while the people around her were the citizens of Oz – and, yes, it was all fiction, the creation of author L. Frank Baum. Nevertheless he had put into words something which many people deeply felt but had not yet expressed.

Flanders opens her volume with the foregoing anecdote. As she says, home is something we have long taken for granted, but it is a relatively new concept. ‘House and home’, as an entity, is something which has only evolved from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries onwards. It had its roots in Tudor England, and even more particularly in seventeenth-century Holland. Ironically, to a certain extent there is a good deal of mythology involved. For example, paintings of Dutch interiors from the age of Vermeer are familiar enough, yet to some extent these are faithful depictions of the painters’ own studios, rather than accurate visual reportage of genuine Dutch homes. There is also a measure of half-truth but no more in the homely American log cabin. Yet the origins go back even further than that, the first known written use of the distinction between house and home appearing in a poem of 1275, which referred to a man’s ‘lond & his hus & his hom’.

What we understand today as ‘home’ really emerged in Holland and in England at around the time of the Industrial Revolution. A combination of factors led to what with hindsight is seen as a consumer revolution, with those that could afford to acquiring commodities and possessions and, later on as science and technology made such things possible, improvements in heating, lighting and hygiene. In time these spread to other European countries and to the United States of America. The American and French revolutions of the eighteenth century produced more fluid social structures in which the newly-emerging middle classes wielded increasing power which, added with the dictates of fashion or ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, led to a desire for greater comfort, elegance and style.

Hand in hand with all this went the marriage system which was at first unique to north-western Europe, in which the pattern of family living that had evolved by around 1500 remained basically unchanged from then on. From these humble beginnings developed the system of homemaking, which resulted in the acquisitions of creature comforts, home furnishing, and the refinements of windows, curtains, plumbing and eventually fitted kitchens.

One legacy of the Industrial Revolution which was not to be underestimated was the twin legacy, or perhaps the twin engine, of ‘the technology of home’, namely heat and light. Both had been provided by fire, which was in earlier times seen as the essence of home – or more literally, hearth and home. Modern architecture took this a stage further with fireplaces, chimneys, stoves and great halls in stately homes for entertaining the masses. The humble candle was superseded by gas lighting and later supplemented if not always replaced by electricity. Interestingly, the two latter were initially conceived as for outdoor use only, and thought to be too glaringly bright for house and home, until the invention of the incandescent filament.

As the author emphasises, the evolution of the home in which we live today is a complex story. Technology, arts, economics, religion and social convention have all played their part. The houses and communities in which we found ourselves in, say, the year 2000, were almost unrecognisable from those in which our forefathers dwelt two hundred years earlier, yet in some ways the basic principles were the same. Paintings of cosy European and American domestic interiors – some perpetuating a myth, others more realistic – as well as contemporary engravings and Victorian photographs of Tudor architecture with its rarely exposed exterior beams, all tell part of the tale. So do the last two contrasting plates in the book, one a painting by Arthur Devis of around 1750 in which a couple show off their new porcelain tea service as their pride and joy, the other a colour photograph of 1957 in which a couple and their two children gather round the television.

It is a rich tapestry, and Flanders has researched and told the convoluted, fact-filled history very thoroughly and readably.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy A Little Piece of England: A tale of self-sufficiency by John Jackson.

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Buy The Making of Home by Judith Flanders at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Making of Home by Judith Flanders at Booklists.jpg The Making of Home by Judith Flanders is in the Top Ten History Books of 2014.


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