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Reviewed by:
  • Locating Privacy in Tudor London
  • Judith H. Anderson
Lena Cowen Orlin . Locating Privacy in Tudor London. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. xiv + 370 pp. index. illus. bibl. £55. ISBN: 978-0-19-922625-2.

The title Locating Privacy in Tudor London, like everything within Lena Orlin's imaginatively planned and lucidly executed history, is significant, indicating the spatial, temporal, and otherwise material grounding of her subject. By location, Orlin means material culture, especially architecture and household ob-jects, and institutional archives of all sorts, especially written records from churches, courts, charities, and livery companies. By personal privacy, she understands "interiority, atomization, spatial control, intimacy, urban anonymity, [End Page 1380] secrecy, withholding, solitude" (1). She is more than willing to speculate about the grounded silences and manifest absences in a painting of her focal subject Alice Barnham —merchant's wife, silkwoman in her own right, mother of four —and to do so compellingly, yet while withholding any warrant of the interiority we would claim for ourselves, since this is not part of the material record she examines. Little wonder that one thinks of Hamlet in reading Orlin's Locating Privacy, and not only while reading those parts of it that attend specifically to surveillance ("the walls have ears" because of construction materials, crowded living conditions, redesigned interiors). More often when Orlin speculates about interiority or withholding, however, she is at pains to reinterpret privacy as public gesture—the pretense or more likely the anachronistic appearance of privacy. Repeatedly she corrects Philippe Ariè s 's story of increasing privacy in the period and does so with good reason. But she also notes that her own story differs essentially from his because her evidence does, insofar as hers is rigorously material and archival.

Chapters in Locating Privacy that focus on architecture and its implications —namely, "Rebuildings," "Boundaries," "Galleries," and "Closets" —alternate suggestively with those following the family of Francis and Alice Barnham: the painting of Alice and her sons, Alice "in the Rebuilt World," "The Chronicles of Francis Barnham," and "The Barnhams' Business Secrets." Francis Barnham was a member of the Drapers' Company, and his rank extended ever upwards to Sheriff and Alderman until he died just short of a likely term as Lord Mayor of London. Officially a merchant, he was mainly in the business of lending money. His activities intersected with apprenticeship, legislated morality, charitable institutions, usury, custom, and law. Francis Barnham exists historically in the records of the Drapers' Company and in those of his several offices that resulted from his high rank therein. For Orlin, Alice Barnham exists primarily in her portrait with two sons. Orlin convincingly establishes Alice as the subject of this portrait for the first time, and otherwise contextualizes and teases out the scanty records that mention her. Both Barnhams provide for Orlin a rich historical narrative of the merchant, or "middling [sort], the material, and the concrete" (9). She acknowledges that this sort, though middling socially, is rich enough to make a Tudor Forbes 500.

Among the governing paradigms Orlin's study challenges is "the predominance of political interpretations" (11). Orlin rightly wants to reinstate a greater emphasis on the economic factors and business interests of the time, as well as on the documents and other material evidence that attest to these. Two revisionary arguments she makes are that the enlargement of living spaces resulted from a greater accumulation of goods, rather than causing this, and that closets are usually overgrown chests, or places for valuables, rather than places of personal retirement. Throughout Locating Privacy, Orlin is alert to issues of gender. Alberti's "gynephobic [architectural] imagination" is a historical touchstone, indeed a critical topos, that she challenges: "such . . . evidence as remains to us . . . suggests that neither the English reader nor early modern gender roles were as thoroughly [End Page 1381] coercive as was imagined by Alberti" (312). Alberti was Burckhardt's uomo universale, as she also observes.

Concluding, I want to emphasize not only the value of Orlin's highly readable study and the avenues for further research it highlights, but also her view that the history of privacy remains "more equivocal than is generally recognized" (10). Again, equivocal. For example, although...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-0236
Print ISSN
0034-4338
Pages
pp. 1380-1382
Launched on MUSE
2008-12-24
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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