Household Gods

Winner of the Forkosch Prize of the American Historical Association, 2007
Co-winner of the North American Conference on British Studies’ Albion Prize, 2007
Short-listed for English PEN’s Hessell-Tiltman Prize, 2007

At what point did the British develop their mania for interiors, wallpaper, furniture, and decoration?  Why have the middle classes developed so passionate an attachment to the contents of their homes?  This absorbing book offers surprising answers to these questions, uncovering the roots of today's consumer society and investigating the forces that shape consumer desires.  Richly illustrated, Household Gods chronicles a hundred years of British interiors, focusing on class, choice, shopping, and possessions. 

Exploring a wealth of unusual records and archives Deborah Cohen locates the source of modern consumerism and materialism in early nineteenth-century religious fervor.  Over the course of the Victorian era, consumerism shed the taint of sin to become the pre-eminent means of expressing individuality.  The book ranges from musty antique shops to luxurious emporia, from suburban semi-detached houses to elegant city villas, from husbands fretting about mantelpieces to women appropriating home decoration as a feminist cause.  It uncovers a society of consumers whose identities have become entwined with the things they put in their houses.

Press Reviews

Lares et Penates

Sunday, October 1, 2006
Literary Review
Miranda Seymour

“[An] excellent book….what we’ve lost is the sense of fun that Deborah Cohen glowingly conveys.”  

‘No nation has identified itself more with the house,’ a German visitor remarked of earlier twentieth-century Britain.  Looking from the outside, this comment would seem only to apply to the lucky handful of people who have the money, and the requisite number of acres, to indulge their taste for idiosyncratic magnificence.  Deborah Cohen’s book looks in another, and more rewarding, direction.  It isn’t the splendours of aristocratic collections that interest her, but the rise of the middle class and, much slower, that of home-ownership.