The Promise of the Suburbs A Victorian History in Literature and Culture Sarah Bilston

Publication date:
12 Mar 2019
Yale University Press
296 pages: 235 x 156 x 25mm
20 b-w illus.

From the earliest decades of the nineteenth century, the suburbs were maligned by the aristocratic elite as dull zones of low cultural ambition and vulgarity, as well as generally female spaces isolated from the consequential male world of commerce. Sarah Bilston argues that these attitudes were forged to undermine the cultural authority of the emerging middle class and to reinforce patriarchy by trivializing women’s work. Resisting these stereotypes, Bilston reveals how suburban life offered ambitious women, especially women writers, access to supportive communities and opportunities for literary and artistic experimentation as well as professional advancement. From more familiar figures such as the sensation author Mary Elizabeth Braddon to interior design journalist Jane Ellen Panton and garden writer Jane Loudon, this work presents a more complicated portrait of how women and English society at large navigated a fast-growing, rapidly changing landscape.

Sarah Bilston is associate professor of literature at Trinity College. She is the author of The Awkward Age in Women’s Popular Fiction, 1850-1900 and two novels, Bed Rest and Sleepless Nights.

The Promise of the Suburbs reveals that, far from enforcing oppressive conformity, the suburbs offered diverse social interactions, opportunities for female professionalism, and new ideas about domestic space and urban modernity. This impressive book is a must-read for anyone interested in mid-Victorian culture.”—Talia Schaffer, Queens College, CUNY, and Graduate Center, CUNY

“No other book carries the analysis of suburban writing and writing about suburbia as far or as fascinatingly as Bilston has achieved here. I learned a lot from reading this book.”—Annette Federico, James Madison University

"Sarah Bilston’s book is a revelation, one that overturns conventional assumptions of suburbia’s sterility to reveal a site of diversity, sociability, and widened opportunities for women. It is essential reading."—Linda K. Hughes, Texas Christian University

"In this compelling account of Victorian suburbia, Bilston completely overturns our preconceptions.  The suburbs, she demonstrates, were not dull and stultifying, but a site of self-invention, social experimentation, and creativity."—Kate Flint, University of Southern California