The Gentleman's Daughter Women's Lives in Georgian England Amanda Vickery

Publication date:
11 Aug 2003
Yale University Press
448 pages: 197 x 127mm
66 b-w illus.


What was the life of an eighteenth-century British genteel woman like? In this lively and controversial book, Amanda Vickery invokes women’s own accounts of their intimate and their public lives to argue that in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the scope of female experience did not diminish—in fact, quite the reverse. Refuting the common understanding that in Georgian times the daughters of merchants, the wives of lawyers, and the sisters of gentlemen lost female freedoms and retreated into their homes, Vickery shows that these women experienced expanding social and intellectual horizons. As they embraced a world far beyond the boundaries of their own parishes through their tireless writing and ravenous reading, genteel women also enjoyed an array of emerging new public arenas—assembly rooms, concert series, theater seasons, circulating libraries, day-time lectures, urban walks, and pleasure gardens.

Based on the letters, diaries, and account books of over one hundred women from commercial, professional, and gentry families, this book transforms our understanding of the position of women in Georgian England. In their own words, they tell of their sometimes humorous, sometimes moving experiences and desires, and of their many roles, including kinswoman, wife, mother, housekeeper, consumer, hostess, and member of polite society. By the nineteenth century, family duties continued to dominate women’s lives, yet, Vickery contends, the public profile of privileged women had reached unprecedented heights.

Read more about Amanda Vickery, Professor of Early Modern History, Queen Mary, University of London. Winner of the Whitfield prize, the Wolfson prize and the Longman-History Today prize. Also, read what the author has to say about the book in an article for her University website -  Unveiling the Mysteries of English Private Life.

"A unique and fascinating picture of a neglected group."—Hannah Barker, British Journal of 18th Century Studies

"A lively and engrossing, sometimes funny study of 18th century genteel women. Serious history is rarely this much fun."—Financial Times

"This scholarly, self-assured work is both a major contribution to the study of women in eighteenth-century England and a delight to read."—Jeremy Black, History Today

"The Gentleman’s Daughter is written with charm and suffused with wry commentary that testifies to Vickery’s intimacy with her subjects. It is both an academic triumph and a spell-binding read."—Julie Wheelwright, Independent

"Innovative, expertly researched and luminous in style."—Linda Colley, London Review of Books

"Based on a wonderfully rich trove of period documents (including 66 illustrations) Vickery’s analysis is both rigorous and readable."—Publishers Weekly

"It is an engrossing book. At one level it can be enjoyed for the vivid social detail that it purveys—the absolute stuff of history."—Antonia Fraser, Sunday Times

"Come up with the idea that women were marginalized (in almost any century since the Middle ages) and historians can then ignore them. Amanda Vickery refuses to follow grand generalizations . . . and uses letters, diaries and account books of more than 100 women to let them speak about their lives for themselves. The result will please the academic who wants a good argument and the general reader who will enjoy a read that wittily shows women living within the bounds of a propriety which turn out to be less restricting than has been thought until now."—Desmond Christy, The Guardian

"A graphic, voice-filled study of Lancashire gentry."—The Observer