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  • Shopping, Collecting, and Feeling at Home
  • Barrett Kalter (bio)
John Styles and Amanda Vickery, eds. Gender, Taste, and Material Culture in Britain and North America 1700-1830. New Haven: Yale Center for British Art; London: The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2006. vii+358 pp. US $65. ISBN 978-0-300-11659-5.
Maya Jasanoff. Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750-1850. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. ix+404 pp. US $27.95. ISBN 978-1-4000-4167-1.
Viccy Coltman. Fabricating the Antique: Neoclassicism in Britain, 1760-1800. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. xii+256 pp. US $48. ISBN 978-0-226-11396-8.
Jeremy Aynsley and Charlotte Grant, eds. Imagined Interiors: Representing the Domestic Interior Since the Renaissance. London: V&A Publications, 2006. 304 pp. CAN $110; US $85. ISBN 978-1-85177-492-0.

Early in A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, Samuel Johnson recounts passing the night in the town of Banff, “where I remember nothing that particularly claimed my attention.”1 With no remarkable incidents to narrate, he instead turns to a description of Scottish architecture, which will appear “unusual to Englishmen,” giving special attention to one feature: glazed [End Page 469] sash windows. Because these windows are not counterbalanced, which renders them difficult to open and keep open, they usually remain closed. Consequently, Johnson found most Scottish dwellings to be stuffier than English ones. Johnson worries that such “diminutive observations” diminish the “dignity of writing,” but he argues that the mundane deserves attention precisely because it comprises the bulk of human experience: “it must be remembered that life consists not of a series of illustrious actions, or elegant enjoyments; the greater part of our time passes in compliance with necessities, in the performance of daily duties, in the removal of small inconveniencies, in the procurement of petty pleasures; and we are well or ill at ease as the main stream of life glides on smoothly, or is ruffled by small obstacles and frequent interruption. The true state of every nation is the state of common life” (603). The Journey records the material features of “common life” that divide the areas constitutionally unified as Great Britain, and Johnson’s comments on those features usually reveal his English chauvinism. No doubt today many readers will feel that it is the tenor of the author’s commentary rather than his method of investigation that requires apology. Material culture is one of the fastest-growing areas of research in eighteenth century studies, and the books reviewed in this essay show how much can be learned about this period through the study of its objects and physical spaces, of how and why they were made, acquired, used, and represented.

Neil McKendrick, John Brewer, and J.H. Plumb have influentially argued that the proliferation of commodities, the growth and diversification of the consuming public, and a positive revaluation of leisure and consumption are defining features of Britain’s eighteenth century.2 The essays collected in Gender, Taste, and Material Culture in Britain and North America 1700–1830 pursue this line of argument in new directions and revise some of its central points. The introduction by John Styles and Amanda Vickery productively complicates the equation between consumerism and individuality by emphasizing the number of [End Page 470] people typically involved in a single act of consumption: if one person orders an item that is paid for by another but possessed by a third, who then is the consumer? And just as consumption could link several people together, it also served to differentiate men and women, aristocrats and commoners, who were understood to shop not only for different kinds of things but also in distinctly gendered and class-inflected ways. The stereotypes of the capricious female shopper and the never-buying browser that Claire Walsh analyses in her contribution to the volume were countered by the domestic ideal of the informed and frugal housewife who bargained successfully with merchants, without wasting their time, to provide her family with the highest quality of what was within their means and deemed proper given their social station. John Styles’s essay on the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0243
Print ISSN
0840-6286
Pages
pp. 469-477
Launched on MUSE
2008-07-13
Open Access
No
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