Book Review

Vickery, Amanda. The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

Reviewed by William Warner | July 12, 2000

Property plays a major role in the life of the women chronicled in Amada Vickery’s readable history, The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England. This history departs from most social history by refusing to produce an a priori division between the lives of upper class, middle class or lower class women. Instead, Vickery reads the diaries and letters of over a hundred “gentile women,” belonging to the gentry, the trading class and the profession class, in the counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire during the eighteenth century. Through a careful reconstruction of the social networks within which these women lived, Vickery disputes a familiar theme of eighteenth century social history: that women were being forced into more rigidly conceptualized sphere of private or domestic life. Instead Vickery documents the complex and expansive life of women in this stable and affluent period, and describe their central role in social life. For example, the “heroine” of this book, Elizabeth Shackleton has “public” days when all the vulgar in the neighborhood are invited to her estate, at the same time that she holds elegant entertainments when only the gentile are invited. Vickery organizes her chapter-long accounts almost the way an eighteenth century conduct book would, under the following rubrics: gentility, love and duty, fortitude and resignation, prudent economy, elegance, civility and vulgarity, propriety. Vickery’s way of cleaving to the terms preferred within the eighteenth century is of a piece with a perspective that is anti-ideological, a tone which is sympathetic and celebratory, and a history that ends being too uncritical. Anyone wanting a detailed and comprehensive view of the finely interconnected lives of over a hundred women from this period will benefit from Vickery’s scrupulous reconstruction of their writing networks. But this book invites the intellectual questions Vickery herself demurs from asking.

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