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Customer Review

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating history of English social life through the last 500 years., 30 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Radio 4's History of Private Life (BBC Radio 4) (Audio CD)
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Historian Amanda Vickery presents a radio 4 series dating from 2009 which reveals the hidden history of the British home over the last 500 years, 'all pieced together from first-hand accounts, letters, confessions, wills, diaries, autobiographies, inventories, advertisements, burglary trials, and upholsterers' ledgers'. So it is largely a series of quotes and anecdotes from many sources, although naturally it tends to be slightly biased towards the upper echelons of society as they were the ones blessed with literacy. Originally a thirty part series, it was broadcast over 6 weeks, with each week having a theme and moving from the 16th to the 20th century. The episodes include looks at the privy [water closet], protecting the home against burglary, the middle class love of wallpaper, home medicines, and the love/hate relationship women have with sewing. The series is the culmination of 20 years research combing the archives of England.

The programmes are very varied: 'Some are funny, some are dark - like the terrible diary of domestic violence from the early nineteenth century. Some have dozens of voices in them, some are just the story of one person, drawn from intimate letters and diaries.' Amanda Vickery also searched libraries for relevant [18th and 19th century] songs about drunken husbands, burglars, and housework. And she found some gems: a protest song about women's servitude from the 18th century; a comic song about seducing a woman who never stops talking; and 'The Housewife's Lament', in which an early nineteenth century housewife describes the unremitting toil of her life, cleaning, cooking, ironing, and imagines a never-ending tide of dirt coming towards her. The recordings also feature actors and singers, as well as narration. The run time is a massive 6 hours and 41 min spread over 6 audio CDs, which makes it quite good value for a BBC audio CD set.

Professor Amanda Vickery studied History at Bedford College, University of London. She is now Director of the Royal Holloway's Bedford Centre for the History of Women, and her first book 'The Gentleman's Daughter' (Yale, 1998) won many prizes. Her presentation style is gently amusing - more instructional than say the more humorous approach of the likes of Stephen Fry. Ultimately it's the detail of her research that carries the day - often presented as snippets rather than detailed character studies, i.e. setting standards in accuracy rather than storytelling - although we'll never know how much the surviving personal archive truly reflects the society it came from, and perhaps there's some bias in the programme towards the female view of domestic life.

However, overall my wife and I enjoyed this CD set, first broadcast in 2009, with it's many themes that include: [16-17c, CD1]: A private space - the matrimonial bed, the closet as a refuge, ghosts and witches; [17c, CD2]: Running the home - which looks at cleanliness, mistresses and servants, Ornamenting; [18c, CD3]: Showing the house as a public stage - which looks at tea, embarrassing sons, domestic harmony and domestic violence; [17-18c, CD4]: Those without a home - Servants/lodgers, spinsters/bachelors searching for a home, wealthy & powerful widows, and widowers looking for new wives; [18-19c, CD5]: The home as an expression of personality - which investigates setting up home, marriage and shared taste; [19-20c, CD6]: Escaping the home - girls education, the conservatory, dun'roaming and the bedsit. Easily 4*.

Since this radio 4 series Amanda Vickery has made several excellent social history series for BBC2 TV, such as 'Suffragettes Forever! The Story of Women and Power (2015)', 'The Story of Women and Art (2014)' and 'At Home with the Georgians (2010)'
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Jan 2011 19:07:28 GMT
Last edited by the author on 8 Jan 2011 19:22:39 GMT
Charlie-CJ says:
I would add it's naturally a hard slog listening to all the CDs in one go, but the series is great for dipping in to, say at one episode per day as originally broadcast - which is particularly easy if the CDs are ripped onto an iPod/MP3 player [I prefer to listen to this series on the iPod].

Complete details of this 6 audio CD set: Each track is about 4 minutes long, with three tracks making up each episode [so it's just under 15 minutes per episode]. There's 5 episodes per audio CD, and 30 episodes in the entire series, and a small double sheet pamphlet is included containing the track details. From my iTunes folder, the track titles of this audio set are:

Radio 4's History Of Private Life: A Private Space [CD 1, 16th-17th century]
Episode 1: The Bed
Episode 2: Things That Go Bump In The Night
Episode 3: The State In Miniature
Episode 4: Into The Closet
Episode 5: Every Man's Home Is His Castle

Radio 4's History Of Private Life : Running The Home [CD 2, 17 century]
Episode 6: How Clean Is Your Linen?
Episode 7: Kitchen Physic
Episode 8: Pots And Pans
Episode 9: Ornamenting The House
Episode 10: Mistress And Servants

Radio 4's History Of Private Life: Visitors At Home [CD 3, 18th century]
Episode 11: Tea
Episode 12: Domestic Harmony
Episode 13: Secrets At Home
Episode 14: Men At Home
Episode 15: Domestic Violence

Radio 4's History Of Private Life : Those Without Homes [CD 4, 17th-18th century]
Episode 16: Servants
Episode 17: Bachelors And Lodgers
Episode 18: Spinsters
Episode 19: Widows
Episode 20: Widowers

Radio 4's History Of Private Life : Showing Off [CD 5, 18th-19th century]
Episode 21: Magnificence
Episode 22: Taste
Episode 23: Science And Nature In The Home
Episode 24: Courtship And Setting Up Home
Episode 25: Neat And Not Too Showy

Radio 4's History Of Private Life: Escaping The Home [CD6, 19th-20th century]
Episode 26: Domestic Education In The Moral Home
Episode 27: The Garden Indoors
Episode 28: Exporting The Home
Episode 29: Dunroamin'
Episode 30: Alternative Home

With all episodes split into: part 1, part 2, and part 3.
Total run time 6 hour 41 minutes.

iTunes recognised all the CD set tracks, although I had to copy and paste the album artwork from Amazon's photo, using copy, and in iTunes, right-click 'get info', and right-click paste into the 'artwork' box. Look out for Amanda Vickery's new BBC-2 TV series 'At home with the Georgians' which has just started showing [and it's on iPlayer]: http://www.bbc.co.uk/tv/comingup/behind-closed-doors
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