If Walls Could Talk An Intimate History of Your Home
‘It’s all terrific fun’. – The Sunday Times
‘An unpretentious history of mundane things made remarkable, this amusingly straightforward treatise can’t help hitting close to home’. – O: The Oprah Magazine
‘Brisk and effervescent … brings these myriad details into focus’. – The Wall Street Journal
‘An intriguing pleasure’. – The Guardian
‘A fascinating journey’. – Daily Mail
‘A very enjoyable beginner’s guide to British domestic life’. – Mail on Sunday
I’ve explored what people actually did in bed, in the bath, at the table, and at the stove. This has taken me from sauce-stirring to breast-feeding, teeth-cleaning to masturbation, getting dressed to getting married.
Along my way, I was intrigued to discover that bedrooms in the past were rather crowded, semi-public places, and that only in the nineteenth century did they become reserved purely for sleep and sex. The bathroom didn’t even exist as a separate room until late into the Victorian age, and it surprised me that people’s attitudes towards personal hygiene, rather than technological innovation, determined the pace of its development. The living room emerged once people had the leisure time and spare money to spend in and on it, and I’ve learned to think of it as a sort of stage-set where homeowners acted out an idealized version of their lives for the benefit of guests.
Meanwhile, the story of the kitchen is also the story of food safety, transport, technology and gender relations. Once I realized this, I saw my own kitchen in an entirely new light.
I’ve uncovered lots of tiny, quirky and seemingly trivial details, but through them I think we can chart great, overarching, revolutionary changes in society. A person’s home makes an excellent starting point for assessing their time, place and life. ‘I’ve a great respect forthings!’ says Madame Merle in Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady (1881). ‘We’re each of us made up of some cluster of appurtenances … one’s house, one’s furniture, one’s garments, the books one reads, the company one keeps – these things are all expressive’. That’s why, now as then, people lavish so much time, effort and money on their houses.
See part of the show below…