What ideals did the Victorians attach to keeping a well ordered home?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I will suggest that, to further enhance your knowledge of the Victorian lifestyle you refer to the book The Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England (Flanders) and also conduct a search on the very famous Mrs. Beeton and her books, who were the most influential as far as life at home would be concerned. Mrs. Beeton was the last word in "who was who" and "what was what" during the era. She was the Martha Stewart of her time and whatever she would say, would go.I strongly suggest that you do engage in these readings because my answer (or any answer from colleagues) could never encompass the complexity and the dimensions of the Victorian ideals.

This being said, the first thing that you will find is that there is a significant influence of religion in the ideal of domesticity. The idea was that the home was the anchor of the family and that it would harbor away sin while nesting respectability. This issue has been a point of debate among researchers but most research points that this may actually be the real background of the idea of domesticity.The debate lays in the fact that by the mid 1800's church was not as powerful and that Darwin's theory of evolution had broken many away from their typical beliefs. However, the counterargument is that Victorians were not as much for principles as they were for the appearance of there being principles. Hence, the religious factor seems to be, indeed, the background for the Victorian ideal of the respectable home, albeit, for the mere purpose of "show".

Furthermore, it is in the home where the gender roles would be more evident and where men and women would perform the required social rites that were rendered to them during the time. For instance the man, as the head of the family, would fulfill his duties as the provider while the woman would fulfill her duties as the nurturer of the family circle.

More over, in the home, the woman would entertain and demonstrate the prosperity of her man, as the head of household. The Victorian home was notorious for its penchant for display. This means that the home not only was considered the refuge of the family, but also the ultimate "show" of social force by the excessive demonstration of "trophies" in the form of family pictures, hunting game, bric a brac, art, and much more. This is what led to the rebellious Aesthetic movement which contended against the "stuffiness" of the typical Victorian home.

Yet it was Queen Victoria who ultimately embodied the idea of domesticity in England. Being the first known queen who had married "for love", Victoria and her impressive brood of children enforced the idea of the family unit, being the first Royal family in England to openly "show themselves" in the Victorian media (pamphlets, et al) and sort of marketing themselves as the ultimate symbol of happiness. Queen Victorian enforced the idea of the happy home and the Utopian view of a family as happy and prosperous. If you think about it, she gave her name to an era in which these very elements still resonate as true, even to the modern scholar. Hence, between her influence and the influence of religion, the "Victorian Home" became the scenario for social networking and for the somewhat imaginary ideal of a perfect family.