VICTORIAN AMERICA by Thomas J. Schlereth

VICTORIAN AMERICA

Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 From Schlereth (American Studies/Notre Dame): a detailed, lively survey of the commonplace objects, events, experiences, products, and tastes that comprised America's Victorian culture, expressed its values, and shaped modern life. Between the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 and the San Francisco one in 1915, the US population doubled, redistributed itself, and developed the character and lifestyle identified with the middle classes in the 20th century. Its mobility required roads, trains, trolleys, maps, canals, autos; new means of communication in telephones, telegraphs, and mass media; and a standard time devised by railroads and measured by alarm clocks, time clocks, and cheap watches. New economic systems emerged: farms were commercialized; foods were processed (Kellogg's), condensed (Borden's), preserved (Heinz), distributed in food chains (A&P), promoted through advertising, and identified with brand names and slogans. New occupations emerged; typewriters created secretaries who cultivated new standards of personal appearance wearing shirtwaists, using cosmetics, shopping in department stores, and visiting beauty parlors. Toothpaste, razor blades, health foods, and spas expressed the rising interest in personal fitness as well as recreation, which extended to moving pictures, spectator sports, public gardens, amusement parks, and bicycles--all based on the new technologies, on the new vision of people mastering nature. But the book is not all trivia, not just the Juicy Fruit gum and the cafeteria-eating that Americans discovered at the San Francisco Fair. Schlereth, a writer of immense tact and range, recounts with equal interest and vitality the whole constellation of events that surrounded the development of suburban living, domestic history, the labor movement, the architecture of colleges--and conveys it seamlessly. The notes reveal something of his erudition, his ability to see the relationships, to depict unpretentiously this complex period of cultural history with all its ironies and color. A splendid achievement. (Forty-three pages of photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: July 31st, 1991
ISBN: 0-06-016218-X
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1991




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