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Thursday, 11 November 2010, 12:00AM
The Cruciform, University College London

What did eighteenth-century men want?

Professor Amanda Vickery

Such is the gloom that surrounds settling down today and the glamour that attaches to mature bachelor freedom, it is hard to imagine that there was a time when marriage represented the summit of a young man's hopes. 

Forty years after the sexual liberalization of the 1970s, it is easy to forget that only marriage promised true sexual fulfillment for Christians, turning furtive or frustrated boys into fully-realized men.  Marriage was the only acceptable framework for children, through whom men made a claim on the future, but also confirmed their potency.  Virility was one of the most celebrated masculine qualities.  The father who led a handsome family into church radiated both an air of commanding respectability and a glow of unmistakable sexual success. 

Marriage promised physical excitement.  Two days before his marriage in January 1754, 33 year old Josiah Wedgwood positively frothed with anticipation of 'the blissful day! When she will reward all my faithful services & take me to her arms! To her Nuptial bed! To - Pleasures which I am yet ignorant of'. He took the precaution of working over-time the week before his wedding to clear time to enjoy his bride uninterrupted.  Marriage was a sexy prospect. 

In the 17th and 18th century, bachelorhood was a temporary and unprestigious state best solved by marriage.  The Batchelor's Directory of 1694 was unequivocal -  'Matrimony - what can better agree with man and more exactly relate to his necessities?'  Even men who felt no attraction to the opposite sex had to marry to gain the full benefits of adulthood.

There were even proposals to levy a tax on mature bachelors as a deterrent and a punishment for their evasion of the burden of domestic government and social provision. Perpetual bachelors were the 'vermin of the State' pronounced the Women's Advocate stonily.  'They enjoy the benefit of society, but Contribute not to its Charge and Spunge upon the publick, without making the least return'.

We associate the history of home and private life with women, but what did house and domesticity mean to men?  More than you might think argues Professor Amanda Vickery.

This is the 2010 Joint Royal Historical Society/Gresham College Annual Lecture. The other joint lectures can be accessed here:
       2012 - Why the Enlightenment still matters today by Professor Justin Chapman
       2011 - The Rural Past and Urban Histories, 1881 - 2011 by Professor Alun Howkins
       2009 - The Institutionalisation of the Arts in Early Victorian England
                 by Charles Saumarez Smith
       2008 - History, Science and Religion by Dr Allan Chapman
       2007 - The fabrication of medieval history by Dr Simon Thurley
       2006 - The Curse of the Poke Bonnet: Television's Version by Joan Bakewell
       2005 - Travels in Time: History and identity in today's world by Michael Wood
       2004 - Presenting unwanted histories by Dr Gareth Griffith

professor-amanda-vickery

Amanda Vickery is the prize-winning author of The Gentleman's Daughter (Yale University Press, 1998) and Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England (Yale University Press, 2009).

She has recently been appointed Professor of Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London. She currently holds a professorship at Royal Holloway, University of London. She lectures on British social, political and cultural history from the 17th century to the present.

Amanda reviews for The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement, and BBC Radio 4's Saturday Review, Front Row and Woman’s Hour. She writes and presents history documentaries for television and radio. Her TV series ‘Behind Closed Doors’ airs on BBC2 in autumn 2010. 

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11 November 2010

What did eighteenth-century men want?
Professor Amanda Vickery

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