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18 September 2014
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Victorian Britain

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Women and Urban Life in Victorian Britain

By Lynda Nead
Domestic sphere

The pure woman was closely associated with the shelter of the private sphere, of the home. Her purity guaranteed the home as a haven and a source of social stability and, in turn, feminine purity itself was ensured through the protection of the domestic sanctuary.

Within this interlocking set of beliefs, the classification of deviant forms of female behaviour was as critical as the definition and promotion of female respectability. The image of the prostitute thus became a symbol of the danger and disorder of the city streets.

Domestic values were also partly defined in relation to a debate concerning the country and the city. Within popular accounts, the countryside was seen as the opposite of the disease-ridden and potentially revolutionary city. It was healthy, moral and peaceful, and its homes were imagined as happy, timeless and natural.

Ideas concerning the countryside, the home and the family came together in the construction of a rural ideal. According to middle-class values, the family was a 'natural' and stable unit which should ideally be located in a rural setting, or at least a suburban version of the rural.

Published: 2004-11-04

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