At Home: A Short History of Private Life

By Hughes, Sean | The Christian Science Monitor, October 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

At Home: A Short History of Private Life


Hughes, Sean, The Christian Science Monitor


Bill Bryson considers the history of household life - and just about everything else.

Bill Bryson has the good fortune of living in an English rectory

built in 1851. And his readers are lucky to be able to tag along in

At Home, Bryson's delightful history of household life.

It struck Bryson that history is mostly "masses of people doing

ordinary things," so a history of private life would turn out to be

a history of, well, nearly everything - or at least nearly

everything in Britain and America during the last 150 years.

One might hesitate to pick up a history of household life, fearing a

dry treatise on arcane improvements in furniture care and cleaning

technology. Fear not - for Bryson the domestic is just a starting

point.

Bryson builds each chapter from one of the rooms in his rectory. In

the dining room he wonders why salt and pepper are the two spices on

every table, which prompts him to explore European explorers, the

slave trade, coffee, tea, silverware, and etiquette. The dressing

room leads to the origin of clothes; the manufacture of fabric,

fashion, wigs, cotton; and, not least, the Industrial Revolution.

These most common of rooms begin to take on a new light. Bryson

writes that "nothing about this house, or any house, is inevitable.

Everything had to be thought of - doors, windows, chimneys, stairs

- and a good deal of that ... took far more time and

experimentation than you might have ever thought." Suddenly,

nothing around you seems obvious or natural, the world becomes

strange and wonderful.

The supposedly logical progression of history comes to seem quite

tenuous. It took some 14 centuries for the British to reinvent the

"hot baths, padded sofas and central heating" that had been

common during the Roman Era. And even after a Viennese doctor

discovered that hand washing markedly decreased hospital deaths, he

was ignored for decades. It makes one wonder what wonderful future

advancements are lying around hidden and scorned today.

Just as he makes the commonest of things appear near miraculous, so,

too, does Bryson make the fact that we know anything at all about

history seem terribly fragile. We are told again and again of lost

monuments, mysteries surrounding ruins, and total ignorance about

major portions of the lives of rather significant people. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

At Home: A Short History of Private Life
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.