Domesticity: Home, Housing and Household
25th Annual Medieval Studies Conference
Saturday March 12-Sunday March 13, 2005
Domesticity in Late-Medieval England
Felicity Riddy, University of York
Domesticity is usually held to be a modern phenomenon. It is sometimes thought to come into being in the mysterious genre paintings produced in seventeenth-century Holland, in which women are shown performing housewifely and motherly roles in plain bourgeois interiors. Here the domestic sphere is associated with cleanliness and moral virtue, in (often) implicit contrast with the moral and physical mire of the street. Another famous version of domesticity arises from the nineteenth-century ‘separate spheres’ model of family and social life. Here the contrast is not between home and street, but between home and work. The two spheres are thought of as a polarity that is reinforced by the gender divide: home is the proper sphere of women and work the proper sphere of men. The ideological separation of home from work marks the change from an older, pre-industrial set of social relations in which work was located within the household. With industrialization, it is argued, work moved out of the home; full-time household management became a career for middle-class women, and the home, now solely a residential space, was idealized as a source of different kinds of virtues from those of the workplace. The simplicity of this model has been challenged in a number of ways, not least by John Tosh, who has argued that the home was an important source of identity for men. Nevertheless, he still thinks in terms of the home-work contrast, and believes that domesticity was essentially a nineteenth-century invention.
· Conference Program
· Hotel and Travel Information