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Bookreview: Stories from home: English domestic interiors, 1750—1850. By Margaret Ponsonby. Aldershot: Ashgate. 2007. x + 221 pp. £55.00 hardback. ISBN: 9780754652359

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Hoskins, Lesley

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Abstract 519BookreviewStoriesfrom home: English domestic interiors, 1750—1850. By Margaret Ponsonby.Aldershot: Ashgate. 2007. x + 221 pp. £55.00 hardback. ISBN: 9780754652359SAGE Publications, Inc.2008DOI: 10.1177/14744740080150040702LesleyHoskinsQueen Mary, University of LondonThisbook is written by a design historian but its themes – house-and-home,consumption and material culture – and its approach are entirely relevantto current cultural geography. Margaret Ponsonby develops a design historicalfocus on objects to give serious attention to520boththe `fleshly' and the immaterial implications of possessions for those whoacquire, live with and dispose of them. She understands the domestic as asetting for the production and manifestation of social and cultural identitiesand sees household goods as a crux in the com- plex negotiations between people,their circumstances (including their gender, age, social sta- tus, wealthand location) and discourses of home. This particular study is set among themiddling sort in England between 1750 and 1850 because, Ponsonby argues, thisis when, where, and for whom a particularly potent norma- tive discourse ofdomesticity developed. She is impressed by the ethnographic approach of recentmaterial culture studies but cannot observe or talk with her historical subjects.Instead, in a method more akin to the archaeological tradition of materialculture studies in the United States, she minutely considers their householdpossessions, as evidenced in inventories, house- hold accounts and personalpapers. Ponsonby analyses combinations and arrangements of goods in a smallnumber of specific houses, reading them in their social and cultural con-texts to produce numerous new insights. For example, she follows a complicatedtrail of crockery and room names to delineate the gendered practices of genteelformal hospitality. And against the frequent assumption of the nationwideinfluence of London, she is able to retrieve a distinct elite provincial identity.It is, for the most part, the owners who are thus illuminated; the less privilegedhousehold members remain rather more in the shadows. In the second part ofthe book, Ponsonby turns to a discussion of the differing inter- pretive strategiesused in historic house displays. She argues that it is more revealing to focuson individual cases than to take a generic approach. This is her own methodology,which does yield enormously rich results, although it makes her generalizationsless convincing. This book's attention to the ordinary practices of everydaylife brilliantly fractures the still- pervasive monolithic myth of Victoriandomesticity. Ponsonby suggests that these `different' homes were individualdeviations from the ideals of the period; a larger study might allow us toconsider whether such deviations might rather be seen as expressive, or evenconstitu- tive, of commonly held norms.
Document language English
Publication Year 2008
Page/Pages p. 519-520
Journal Cultural Geographies, 15 (2008) 4
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)