Amanda Vickery – Unveiling the Mysteries of English Private Life
“My series unlocks the front door of the Englishman’s castle to peer into the privacies and intimacies of life at home over the last 400 years”, she says. “ ‘A History of Private Life’ will recreate for the general public the real texture and fabric of life at home in the past”.
From the Tudor castle to the interwar semi, the Georgian town house to the imperial bungalow, Professor Amanda Vickery unlocks the secrets of English domestic life. Over the coming months Professor Vickery, from the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London, offers her own interpretation of 400 years of private life.
Professor Vickery’s new thirty-part BBC Radio 4 series ‘A History of Private Life’ starts on 28 September, while her book on the Eighteenth Century Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England is set to hit shelves in October.
Professor Vickery was recently awarded a Knowledge Transfer Fellowship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to collaborate with Loftus Productions to relay scholarly research to a thinking audience far beyond the academy with her radio series. The Fellowship has enabled Professor Vickery, who writes and presents the series herself, to work closely with Sony award-winning producer Elizabeth Burke. Together they have transformed Amanda’s extensive research into an entertaining radio series. Professor Vickery found it thrilling to collaborate with actresses such as Deborah Findlay and jazz artist Gwyneth Herbert, drawing on period music and original documents to capture the mood and spirit of the past.
“Winning the BBC Radio 4 commission and the Knowledge Transfer Fellowship gave me a golden opportunity to broadcast my research to a wide audience, and to develop an imaginative and ambitious narrative of 400 years of English history”.
“My series unlocks the front door of the Englishman’s castle to peer into the privacies and intimacies of life at home over the last 400 years”, she says. “‘A History of Private Life’ will recreate for the general public the real texture and fabric of life at home in the past”.
The radio series draws heavily on an extensive 20 years of research conducted by Professor Vickery. She has examined archives throughout England, Wales, Scotland and North America; piecing together the past from a wide range of sources including love letters, confessions and wills. Professor Vickery has also made creative use of a range of unusual sources, such as burglary trials and even upholsterers ledgers, to bring to life a history so taken for granted that it was rarely put into words. “House, home and domestic life are so fundamental they have become almost invisible”, she explains. “Diarists and letter-writers often only felt moved to comment at times of crisis. It took some ingenuity to recreate what people in the past thought so important that it went without saying”.
Professor Vickery comments, “Winning the BBC Radio 4 commission and the Knowledge Transfer Fellowship gave me a golden opportunity to broadcast my research to a wide audience, and to develop an imaginative and ambitious narrative of 400 years of English history”.
Mark Damazer, controller of BBC Radio 4, adds, “It is a boon for BBC Radio 4 to broadcast a big history series with so much original research. Professor Vickery’s work will be one of the highlights of the BBC Radio 4 year and will be distinctive and important”.
Professor Vickery says, “The importance of the past lies as much in the history of relationships and private rituals as in public institutions like universities and parliament. I am fascinated by how people lived their day to day lives, their secret struggles and their longings. Stories and feelings are the heartbeat of the past – for the long-dead were once as vital as us, and their complexities just as vivid. The task of the historian is to breathe life into them once more”.
Professor Vickery reviews for The Guardian and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Saturday Review’ and ‘Woman’s Hour’, and has already achieved literary success, winning a number of prizes for her first book The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England.
Her latest book, Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England, published by Yale University Press, offers a vivid Dickensian panorama full of anecdote and incident, characters and stories, introducing us to genteel spinsters keeping up appearances in two rooms; sex-starved bachelors in scanty lodgings; professional couples embarking nervously on married life in rented houses; and servants with only a locking box to call their own.
Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England Available October 2009 £18.99
(Interview courtesy Royal Holloway, University of London)