Friends of the Family: The English Home and Its Guardians, 1850-1940

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Stanford University Press, 1998 - History - 455 pages
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This book seeks to explain what a reverence for "family values" meant in practice for the Western world's most family-conscious culture. Victorian England can be credited with inventing the ideal of the home inviolate, an ideal best condensed in the notion that "an Englishman's home is his castle".

It was during this period that the family emerged as a subject of continuous discussion by politicians and of intervention by middle-class reformers. The discussion tended to address specific problems -- domestic violence, juvenile criminality, and the fate of illegitimate children, among others -- rather than focusing on the family as a whole. The reformers not only set the agenda of family-focused debates but also supplied the leadership for a vast array of interventionist groups -- philanthropists, civil servants, magistrates, medical practitioners, educators, and child psychologists -- whose common goal was to save the family, especially the working-class family, from itself.

Thus this book shows that long before the building of a modern welfare state, English homes had become targets of regulation: the Englishman's castle possessed neither moat nor drawbridge. It also reveals the extent to which working-class parents participated in a cultural "policing" process; the Victorian poor were never the inert lump of humanity that many contemporaries, and some modern scholars, have supposed. Nor did the weight of schemes to regulate and elevate family conduct fall exclusively on the poor. The book demonstrates that middle-class reformers were not shy about dictating the terms of good parenting to their own class.

Charting the origins, elaborations, and limitations of the concept of theideal home is no antiquarian exercise, for the social policy implications bound up with the myth of family privacy persist today. Intellectual critics of the "therapeutic state" such as Christopher Lasch and Michel Foucault hold that the rise of tutelary "experts" -- from social workers to public health inspectors and juvenile court judges -- has subverted parental autonomy. Similarly, populist conservative politicians in both England and the United States attack "welfarist" social programs because they appear to undercut the sense of individual responsibility that allegedly once flourished during a golden age of family strength.

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About the author (1998)

George K. Behlmer is Professor of History at the University of Washington. He is the author, most recently, of Friends of the Family: The English Home and Its Guardians (Stanford, 1998). Fred M. Leventhal is Professor of History at Boston University. His most recent publication (Editor) is Twentieth-Century Britain: An Encyclopedia.

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