Advice literature as design reform discourse

Lara-Betancourt, Patricia (2013) Advice literature as design reform discourse. In: Domestic Advice Literature and Histories of Home - Seminar; 31 January 2013, Geffrye Museum, London, UK. (Unpublished)


The Victorian period was an age of reform, and the abundance of advice literature that followed is a good measure of its rhétoric and ambition. For the design historian today, and in reference to furnishing and decorating, advice literature seems key in understanding how a particular sector of Victorian society portrayed and represented the domestic interior, but also in exploring how society in general tried to grapple with the complex and numerous changes experienced at the time. The literature on home furnishing was a thriving one for the period 1890 to 1914. The expanding middle class, and mainly its women, were the target of many books, journals and magazines on the subject. As a historical source, this type of advice offers a challenging combination of prose and images where the text is at the same time description, prescription and critique, and where images illustrate an ideal even when showing real interiors. Compared to previous periods, the literature of these decades contains an abundance of photographs and illustrations. Text and images come together to convey a complex and conflicting modernity in the representation of the middle-class home, one torn between Art and Commerce. This paper will show that it is precisely because advice literature proved itself suitable to carry the design reform discourse, it is a rich source for the study of ideal notions of home furnishing and decoration for this period.

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