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Reviewed by:
  • Emotions in the Household, 1200–1900
  • Carolyn James
Broomhall, Susan, ed., Emotions in the Household, 1200–1900, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008; hardback; pp. xi, 288; R.R.P. £55.00; ISBN 9780230543119.

This collection of essays provides a wide-ranging investigation of emotions within the European household, in its various manifestations, from the late medieval period until almost modern times. The authors are concerned, not so much with kinship and marital relationships, but rather with affective and other ties in the communities of people 'clustered around the family but not limited to it' (p. 16), which were brought together within households by a combination of economic, social and biological needs. Tutors, secretaries, domestic servants, lodgers and guests, foster children and wards, and perhaps adolescent apprentices, might each become members of a household for short or prolonged periods of time. These individuals contributed in complex ways, which are only beginning to be investigated by scholars, to the emotional and power dynamics within both urban and rural homes. This volume offers an impressive spread of examples of domestic communities from both central and northern Europe and aims not only to document and analyse the variety of emotional expression within such groups, but also to determine the extent to which the household is a fertile category for understanding emotions and their relationship with social identity.

Susan Broomhall's introduction rehearses very well the methodological issues that bedevil scholarly attempts to understand how people understood and experienced emotions in the past, and offers a thoroughgoing review of the range of scholarly approaches to both the pre-modern family and its household. The contributors to her volume themselves represent a variety of interdisciplinary engagements with the book's themes and they use an [End Page 268] interesting array of sources. Tovi Bibring and Sarah Gordon, for example, explore representations of servant life in French popular literature, while Catherine Mann, Caroline Sherman and Ruth Chavasse analyse the capacity for letters to transmit, preserve, or perhaps to create, strong emotions, beyond any physical notion of household. Marko Lamberg focuses on legal records in his examination of relationships between maids and mistresses in Stockholm between 1450 and 1650. Other authors, too numerous to mention here, use wills, diaries, conduct books or institutional records in their analyses.

As Broomhall points out in her introductory essay, such different genres of evidence cannot be compared directly. She also notes that the wide variety of types of households, and the diversity of geography, nationality, time, religion and social status represented by the individual contributions, cannot add up to a definitive response to this multifaceted and complex subject. We must agree with her, too, however, that the intricacies of human emotions and relationships within various kinds of late medieval and early modern European households reward scholarly investigation. This volume offers a rich array of ideas and its interesting case studies will surely stimulate further research into this important subject.

Carolyn James
School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies
Monash University


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