THE AGE OF THE BACHELOR by Howard P. Chudacoff


Creating an American Subculture
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Scholarly but never dusty, this vivid study examines the salacious, sensuous bachelor lifestyle at the height of its prominence from 1880 to 1920. Chudacoff (History/Brown Univ.) deftly plies statistics to demonstrate how socioeconomic changes of the mid-19th century swelled the ranks of urban, unmarried men and forged them into a class apart with distinct organizations, morality, media, and myths. Immigration from northern and eastern Europe created a new paradigm of living arrangements for men in their teens and twenties, outside the natal home and independent of parental supervision. Boarding houses and YMCA hotels sprang up to accommodate the ever-growing ranks of restless, middle-class bachelors, not socialized enough (and perhaps too insecure) to establish their own hearth and home. By the 1880s, the concentration of young single men in America’s largest cities had created enterprises catering to their commercial demands: barber shops, pool halls, corner saloons, amusement parks, even the bizarre “taxi dances,” where ladies of moderately ill repute sold admirers the right to a dance. Particularly interesting is Chudacoff’s survey of the popular National Police Gazette, whose randy accounts of sex crimes, descriptions of sports heroes’ exploits, and advertisements for impotence cures give the reader a whimsical snapshot of the Victorian bachelor’s obsessions. The author also does a fine job of addressing the related question of homosexual relations, an almost unsolvable riddle given the paucity of written evidence of gay intimacy from that time. Overall, the reader comes away with a clearer idea of the separateness of bachelor life, a collective alienation difficult to fully imagine in our world of later marriage and long-term cohabitation. Chudacoff’s research and methodology are admirable, offering a fine mix of evidence, anecdote, biographical account, and sociological material to explore all important aspects of his subject. A well-rounded view of the turn-of-the-century bachelor, particularly valuable to readers drawn to the cultural landscape of Victorian America. (24 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-691-02796-X
Page count: 376pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999


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