Soap and Water : Cleanliness, Dirt and the Working Classes in Victorian and Edwardian Britain
Author(s): Victoria Kelley
From whitened doorsteps to polished boots, starched pinafores to scrubbed floors, this is the compelling story of how Victorians and Edwardians engaged in the pursuit of cleanliness and the battle against grime in domestic life. It is the first book to uncover how cleanliness and dirt were perceived and understood at a period of history when they were an overwhelming preoccupation. Victoria Kelley explores this period of important change, particularly for the working classes when, as Jose Harris comments, 'whole worlds of meaning were conveyed by microscopic household practices, such as whether one washed ...in the bathroom or the bedroom, or at the kitchen sink'. Kelley quotes social surveys, advice literature, autobiographies and soap advertisements, to examine how the extreme poverty of many was being interrogated by the official agencies seeking the means to alleviate it. Cleanliness and dirt became part of both a material and a moral landscape, with working-class women and their domestic work scrutinised in particular.
She goes further and examines the spectacular imagery of cleanliness emerging in the soap brands and advertisements that appeared at the heart of early commercial culture. "Soap and Water" is an important contribution to social and design history, as well as to the history of material culture and gender.