“The Garden That I Love”: Middle Class Identity, Gender and the English Domestic Garden 1880-1914
To consider how the values and ideas of the English Arts and Crafts Movement contributed to the acceptance of gardening as suitable hobby for the middle class.
To investigate the meanings of the garden as an interstitial space between the home and the outside world in this period.
To show how the entry of middle-class women into the labour market as professional gardeners exposed some of the conflicts in the idea of the private sphere of home and domesticity and the public sphere of the wage earner, at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century.
To examine through a close textual analysis some of the ways that women used the medium of writing about gardens to assert their own sense of a distinctive female identity.
This thesis examines the meanings that were attached to gardens and gardening in England during the period 1880-1914. These meanings were circulated through contemporary texts and addressed a largely middle-class audience. Texts included journal articles, garden-guides, novels, and autobiographical, or semi-autobiographical accounts of authors’ own gardens.
I argue these texts are historically significant because they demonstrate the importance of the garden as the place in between, or on the border of public and private spheres. They illustrate how middle-class identity was not fixed but part of a developing process subject to constant refinements and distinctions. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the private domestic garden worked as a site where the middle-class policed class differences in relation to the class above them as well as in the class of those understood to be below them. The social, aesthetic and moral criteria that were used to underline these assumed differences derived much of their persuasive force from the imagery and language of gardening.
This middle-class culture was articulated through gardening discourses and the garden itself but there were significant differences in the way that men and women understood and constructed the idea of “spare time.” This indicates overlapping tensions between the idea of home and the world beyond the domestic sphere, and I explore the idea of the garden as an interstice that enabled women to negotiate a sense of their own identity within the home as well as a new site of professional work. The emergence of the “lady gardener” is examined within my thesis, as is the idea of feminine knowledge that is associated with the “garden” as much as the house. Therefore this thesis makes a contribution to the history of the home.