In het door mij zeer geliefde boek ‘The Victorian frame of mind, 1830-1870, beschrijft Walter E. Hougthon diverse terreinen van deze merkwaardige periode waarin de wereld in een vijftigtal jaren werkelijk ‘in transitie’ was: van feodale-landelijke wereld naar een democratische-industriële. Vanuit deze boeiende en zeer leesbare studie belicht ik vandaag de functie van het huis, het ‘home sweet home’ en welke consequenties dat had voor de bewoners en de maatschappij waarin ze functioneerden.

De familie was het centrum van het Victoriaanse leven. Hun rituelen zijn bekend: de verzameling van het hele huishouden voor de familiegebeden, met zijn allen aanwezig in de kerk zondag-morgen, het luidop voorlezen ’s avonds, de jaarlijkse familievakanties.
In de woonkamer vind je de familie-magazines en het familiaal foto-album. Omdat vrouwen steeds bij het huis betrokken waren was een reoriëntering van de mannelijke houding nodig. In de 18de eeuw was het ‘koffiehuis’ het centrum van ’s mans sociale bestaan. Daar rookte, dineerde hij, schreef hij brieven, discussieerde hij er over politiek en literatuur en werd er dronken.

A manual for gentlemen, written in 1778, urged them to beware “of thinking domestic pleasures, cares, and duties, beneath their notice.” ' The radical change which occurred in the next century was recorded and partly explained by Mill in 1869:

 "The association of men with women in daily life is much closer and more complete than it ever was before. Men’s life is more domestic. Formerly, their pleasures and chosen occupations were among men, and in men's company: their wives had but a fragment of their lives. At the present time, the progress of civilization, and the tum of opinion against the rough amusements and convivial excesses which formerly occupied most men in their hours of relaxation-together with (it must be said) the improved tone of modern feeling as to the reciprocity of duty which bindsthe husband towards the wife—have thrown the man very much more upon home and its inmates, for his personal and social pleasures: while the kind and degree of improvement which has been made in women’s education, has made them in some degree capable of being his companions in ideas and mental tastes."(The Victorian Frame of mind)

Voor de jaren vijftig was een vooruitzicht op een betere opvoeding vrijwel onbestaand. Er kwam een zekere evangelisch revival als reactie tegen wat de auteur zo mooi ‘convivial excesses’ noemt. Maar de man werd alvast meer ‘domestic’ dan in vroegere tijden, alleen al maar door het ontstaan van grotere families. Die kwamen er door een betere medische kennis en een betere gezondheidszorg die kindersterfte terugdrong, maar ook door een gebrekkige kennis van contraceptiva, en ik lees tussen haakjes: (because information lay under the severest social and legal restraints)

Men were required to give far more time and attention to the business of the family; and in the middle class that necessity was reinforced by ambition. Now that work had become the means not simply of maintaining a family but of raising it on the social ladder, fathers were pre-occupied with getting their sons into the “best” colleges at Oxford and Cambridge or setting them up in a good profession, and marrying their daughters to gentlemen of birth.(p342)
Opa op kerstbezoek

Maar deze beschrijvingen gaan niet naar ‘the root of the matter’ schrijft Houghton: or the greater amount of family life and thought would not in itself have created “that peculiar sense of solemnity” with which, in the eyes of a typical Victorian like Thomas Arnold, “the very idea of family life was invested.”

Dat idee was het concept het huis als een bron van ‘virtues and emotions’ te beschouwen die je nergens anders kon vinden, allerminst zelfs in ‘business and society’ En net dat maakte het huis als plaats radikaal verschillend met de wereld daarrond. Het was meer dan een huis waar iemand ’s avonds temidden van een drukke carrière een stopplaats vond voor tijdelijke rust en recreatie of procreatie . Het was een aparte plaats en de auteur noemt het ‘a walled garden’ waarin morele standaarden die makkelijk onder de voet werden gelopen in het moderne leven toch werden gehandhaafd en ‘certain desires of the heart too much thwarted be fulfilled.’ Ruskin’s definitie in Sesame and Lillies vind je hieronder.

'This is the true nature of home-it is the place of Peace; the shelter, not only from all injury, but from all terror, doubt, and division. In so far as it is not this, it is not home; so far as the anxieties of the outer life penetrate into it, and the inconsistently-minded, unknown, unloved, or hostile society of the outer world is allowed by either husband or wife to cross the threshold, it ceases to be home; it is then only a part of that outer world which you have roofed over, and lighted fire in. But so far as it is a sacred place, a vestal temple, a temple of the hearth watched over by Household Gods . . . so far as it is this, and roof and fire are types only of a nobler shade and light,—shade as of the rock in a weary land, and light as of the Pharos in the stormy sea;—so far it vindicates the name, and fulfils the praise, of Home.’

(in notitie onderaan: This lecture of Ruskin's is the most important single document I know for the characteristic idealization of love, woman,and the home in Victorian thoughts.)

De rots temidden van de branding om te variëren op Ruskin’s metafoor, wordt door de auteur ‘largely unconscious’ genoemd.

‘The conscious association of family life with security took an other form. The home became the place where one had been at peace and childhood a blessed time when truth was certain and doubt with its divisive effects unknown. In the “strange ways of feeling and thought” that in later life enveloped Pater’s child in the house and left him isolated and alone, he felt “the wistful yearning towardshome.” So did the skeptic in Froude’s essay on homesickness, who looked back to what was literally a paradise:

'God has given us each our own Paradise, our own old childhood, over which the old glories linger—to which our own hearts cling, as all we have ever known of Heaven upon earth. And there, as all earth's weary wayfarers tum back their toil-jaded eyes, so do the poor speculators, one of whom is this writer, whose thoughts have gone astray, who has been sent out like the raven from the window of the ark, and flown to and fro over the ocean of speculation, finding no place for his soul to rest, no pause for his aching wings, turn back in thought, at least, to that old time of peace—that village church—that child-faith—which, once lost, is never gainedagain—-strange mystery—is never gained again--with sad and weary longing!'

Natuurlijk was er ook de impact ‘of modern business’. Al speelde zich alles af in de stad, het huis werd door licht van een pastorale verbeelding voorgesteld. It could seem a country of peace and innocence where life was kind and duty natural.

In a sermon of Baldwin Brown’s, women are told to remember the need of “world-weary men” and therefore to “pray, think, strive to make a home something like a bright, serene, restful, joyful nook of heaven in an unheavenly world.” In the home so conceived, man could recover the humanity he seemed to be losing. Under the intense pressure of competitive life, he felt more and more like a money-making machine, or a cog in the vast mechanism of modem business. He was haunted, as Routh has said, by a specter staring back at him in the mirror, a hard-faced, dwarfish caricature of himself, unpleasantly like the economic man.“ His emotions of pity and love seemed to be drying up; he was losing the sense of relatedness as superiors, inferiors, and equals were becoming actual or potential enemies. But in the home he might escape from this inhuman world, at least for part of every day (which was all he wanted).He might feel his heart beating again in the atmosphere of domestic affection and the binding companionship of a family. It is significant that when Carlyle described the world of big business, he called it “a world alien, not your world . . . not a home at all, of hearts and faces who are yours, whose you are” and said that to live in it was to be “without father, without child, without brother.” But the hour strikes and all that is lost may be found again: “When we come home, we lay aside our mask and drop our tools, and are no longer lawyers, sailors, soldiers, statesmen, clergymen, but only men. We fall again into our most human relations, which, after all, are the whole of what belongs to us as we are ourselves, and alone have the key-note of our hearts.(p345)
For something that abode endued
With temple-like repose, an air
Of life’s kind purposes pursued
With order’d freedom sweet and fair
A tent pitch’d in a world not right
It seem’d, whose inmates, every one,
On tranquil faces bore the light
Of duties beautifully done."

(Patmore 'The angel in the House')
Or at a lower social and economic level, one escapes from a cold, domineering Scrooge to the freedom and warmth of the family hearth. Mark Rutherford was simply a more intellectual Mr. Wemmick when he cultivated a deliberate dissociation of his personality so that his “true self” should not be stained by contact with the self that was subjected to the petty spite and brutal tyranny of an ofice. Then on the stroke of seven he could become himself again: “I was on equal terms with my friends; I was Ellen’s husband; I was, in short, a man.” And he goes on to speak of happy evenings reading aloud with his wife."Small wonder the Victorian home was sentimentalized. In the reaction from a heartless world, the domestic emotions were released too strongly and indulged too eagerly. Indeed, it may be only by the unabashed display of feeling that one can prove unmistakably to all the world, himself included, that he has a heart. Bames Newcome knew his audience when he lectured at the Athenaeurn on Mrs. Hemans and the poetry of the affections:

 'A public man, a commercial man as we well know, yet his heart is in his home, and his joy in his affections: the presence of this immense assembly here this evening; of the industrious capitalists; of the intelligent middle class; of the pride and mainstay of England, the operatives of Newcome; these surrounded by their wives and their children (a graceful bow to the bonnets to the right of the platform), show that they, too, have hearts to feel, and homes to cherish; that they, too, feel the love of women, the innocence of children, the love of song!'
(Thaceray, The Newcomes, chp 66 pp. 687-8)

The Victorian home was not only a peaceful, it was a sacred, place. When the Christian tradition as it was formally embodied in ecclesiastical rites and theological dogmas was losing its hold on contemporary society, and the influence of the pastorate was declining, the living church more and more became the “temple of the hearth.” This was not entirely a metaphor. By the use of Christian Platonism, the home was sanctified. As it was a sacred place for Ruskin because its roof and fire were types of a nobler shade and light, so for Baldwin Brown itwas made by God, like the first man, “after a divine original.” To Kingsley all domestic relations were “given us to teach us their divine antitypes [God the Father, Christ the husband of the one corporate person the Church, and all men children of the same Heavenly Father]: and therefore . . . it is only in proportion as we appreciate and understand the types that we can understand the antitypes.” He was even ready to imply that a bachelor was at some disadvantage: “Fully to understand the meaning of ‘a Father in Heaven’ we must be fathers ourselves; to know how Christ loved the Church, we must have wives to love, and love them.” And to be religious, especially for a woman, we must do good in those simple everyday relations and duties of the family “which are most divine because they are most human.” In this way the moral authority and inspiration of the church was being transferred to the home without any apparent break with the Christian tradition.

For the agnostics, also, the home became a temple-a secular temple. For them the family was the basic source of those altruistic emotions they relied upon to take the place of the Christian ethic. It was there, they thought, that all who had thrown off the trammels of superstition might leam the “sentiment of attachment, comradeship, fellowship, of reverence for those who can teach us, guide, andelevate us, of love which urges us to protect, help, and cherish those to whom we owe our lives and better natures.” No doubt one might, in fact, leam quite different things, as Mill pointed out, but in its best forms he too recognized the family as “a school of sympathy, tendemess, and loving forgetfulness of self.” As such, it was the foundation for the Religion of Humanity. These generous sentiments, once learned in the home, might be extended later to the human race and the future of civilization.”

But whether a sacred temple or a secular temple, the home as a storehouse of moral and spiritual values was as much an answer to increasing commercialism as to declining religion. Indeed, it might be said that mainly on the shoulders of its priestess, the wife and mother, fell the burden of stemming the amoral and irreligious drift of modem industrial society. (p.346-7)

Walter E. Houghton, The Victorian Frame of Mind (1830-1870) Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1985

En twee fragmenten uit De Groene Amsterdammer 2012 die een 21st-eeuw-kijk geven op het beeld van de Victoriaan.

Het beeld van de Victoriaan als preutse, puriteinse en azijnpissende onderdaan van een eeuwig rouwende koningin is aan het verdwijnen. In de boekenplanken die momenteel worden volgeschreven over het Victoriaanse tijdperk - met titels als The Good Old Days: Crime, Murder and Mayhem in Victorian London en Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasures in Victorian Britain - komt de Victoriaan naar voren als een energieke, trotse, sociaal bewogen, seksbeluste en voor vrijheid vechtende burger. Uit pas ontdekte dagboeken van een Amerikaanse student bleek bijvoorbeeld dat het nachtleven in het Cambridge van de jaren veertig in de negentiende eeuw een Sodom en Gomorra was. Ook Victoria zelf wordt niet langer gezien als de treurwilg die na de ontijdige dood van haar Albert celibatair leefde.
De Victoriaanse maatschappij, waar bureaucratie minimaal was, functioneerde. Docenten waren de baas in scholen, medici in ziekenhuizen en premier William Gladstone verrichtte met het redden van 'gevallen vrouwen’ een nuttige buitenschoolse activiteit. 'Liever de Victorianen dan de New Labour-knoeiers’, zo luidde een paar jaar terug de kop boven een stuk van cultuurbeschouwer A.N. Wilson. Zijn collega Christopher Howse schreef, in dezelfde trant: 'We renoveren hun bibliotheken maar halen de boeken weg, we bewonderen hun schilderijen maar kunnen zelf niet schilderen en we genieten van hun architectuur, maar bouwen niets dat lang meegaat.’
(auteur: Patrick van IJzendoorn De Nieuwe Victorianen  De Groene Amsterdammer 4 januari 2012)
Bertha Wegmann Visit in the Studio