Skip to main content

Review: The Carlyles at Home, Thea Holme


Pages: 200
Original publication date: 1964
My edition: 2002 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read: Browsing in the Persephone bookshop
How I acquired my copy: bought from the Persephone shop in Lambs Conduit Street, London when I was there in September
The Carlyles At Home is an account of the years that Thomas and Jane Carlyle lived at 5 (now 24) Cheyne Row, London, moving there in 1834 and covering the years up until Jane’s death in 1866. Thomas Carlyle was, of course, a famous writer and essayist, and the couple hobnobbed with many famous people (as a side note, it was interesting to learn that John Stuart Mill's maid accidentally burned the manuscript of Carlyle's The French Revolution, thinking it was waste paper!). Carlyle's relationship with his wife was stormy, to say the least; but this book is less about all of that than it is about the couple's domestic arrangements.

The book is short (about 200 pages), but it covers a lot of ground, from the animals the couple kept (the story of their dog, Nero, is especially touching), to the clothing they wore both inside and outside the house, to the various repairs and restorations the Carlyles made to the house (it turns out that 19th century contractors are much like their modern-day counterparts), to the wacky, noisy neighbors at number 6 (and the not-soundproffed soudproof room they had built), to their Servant Problem (34 maids-of-all-work in 32 years), it’s all here. And all very interesting, despite the fact that the domestic matters of famous people are frequently overlooked in favor of their accomplishments.

The book draws heavily from the voluminous correspondence that the Carlyles maintained over the years—it turns out that not only was Carlyle a writer, but Jane was as well. Her letters are witty and funny, and prove that the story of the woman behind the man is as interesting as the story of the man himself. Really, this book is more about Jane. Although I appreciate the tone of their correspondence, I’m not sure I would have wanted to live with the Carlyles—it seems as though Thomas was always complaining about something, or that Jane was constantly sick and in a bad temper. Their marriage has been described as unhappy, but in this book, I don't see that at all.

I thought the organization of the book could have withstood some better organization; it’s organized by subject matter and not chronologically, so things could often get confusing. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this glimpse into the lives of two intelligent, interesting people, written by an actress who lived in the Carlyles house nearly a hundred years after Jane’s death (the house is now a museum; her husband was the curator there). Although a strong female is at the heart of this account, it’s not an overly feminist book.

This is Persephone no. 32 (endpaper below; it's the 1857 portrait of Thomas and Jane at home; Carlyle here is wearing the silk, striped dressing gown that's made mention of in the book)

Comments

Sounds quick and fascinating. I love exploring all of the little details like that about another time period. It's always fun to see who other writers knew and had relationships with. I wonder what happened to the maid after she burned manuscripts.
Mrs. B. said…
Sounds wonderful! I love that endpaper....so different from the other Persephones.
Hannah Stoneham said…
Yes it does sound interesting, thank you for sharing... I have also picked up somewhere that the marriage was said to be desperatey unhappy but I am not sure where I have got this from. I don't know very much about them so this book would probably be a good place to start! thanks - Hannah

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

2015 Reading

January
1. The Vanishing Witch, by Karen Maitland
2. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
3. Texts From Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg
4. Brighton Rock, by Graham Green
5. Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey
6. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
7. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
8. A Movable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
9. A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
10. Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote
11. Maggie-Now, by Betty Smith

February
1. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, by Cynthia Lee
4. Music For Chameleons, by Truman Capote
5. Peyton Place, by Grace Metalious
6. Unrequited, by Lisa Phillips
7. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
8. A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather

March
1. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
2. Love With a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Miss Buncle's Book, by DE Stevenson
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garc…