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A pleasant but basically feeble survey of Anglo-American women and women's lives in Victoria's time. The book -- which conveys something of the suffocation of middle-class women, the imposition of bourgeois norms on the upper classes, and the agonies of working-class women -- is not devoid of analysis: along with chatty and bone-chilling vignettes, Crow comments on the suction of rural women into the industrial labor force, and tries to weigh the sufferings of farm life versus cottage industry versus factory work, concluding that the factory system per se made conditions no worse than lower-class existence had been generally. While this is a defensible view, Crow fails to pursue such questions as the classic standard-of-living controversy which affected thousands of women during the era, nor does he deal seriously with childbearing and rearing practices. Despite frequent allusions to domestic service (which occupied the majority of female workers) no systematic survey is made of conditions of service, social mobility, etc. The book skips from education to dress to vague bits about contraception to periodicals and prostitution. Sketches of leading or prototypical women -- reformers and courtesans and quirky noblewomen -- occupy a good deal of aggregate space, though the profile of any one (Nightingale, Besant, Anthony) receives less than serious treatment. Real intellectuals like George Eliot are spectacularly slighted; Americans are generally neglected, especially the abolitionists and pioneers and even such famous characters as Victoria Wood-hull. By the standard of Briggs, Himmelfarb, and other social historians, it's a shallow book; by feminist standards it's too detached and superficial. At best, it remains a diverting browse illustrated with some fine photographs.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1972
Publisher: Stein & Day