Review Of "The Invention Of Comfort: Sensibilities & Design In Early Modern Britain & Early America" By J. E. Crowley

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Comfort meant moral and spiritual support in 1400; by 1800 it had more to do with physical amenities. Crowley (Dalhousie Univ.) explores the web of technological and sociopsychological changes in these centuries and demonstrates how, in stages, the lure of fashion rather than the benefit of inventions altered the public notion of comfort. He surveys chimneyed fireplaces and glazed windows in relation to the rise of private parlors; candles, mirrors, and the umbrella in relation to the political economy of luxury and necessity; and stoves, lamps, and the verandah in relation to the aesthetics of the cottage. Crowley rejects simple explanations and expertly reconstructs complex histories of technology, social behavior, and ideology, crisscrossing the vast documentary sources and achieving an impressive grand synthesis across several disciplines. Catherine Beecher and Andrew Jackson Downing somewhat abruptly bring the narrative to a conclusion; it would have been more complete had Crowley carried us a few decades down to the postbellum agglutinative Anglo-American house, a paradigm of domestic comfort. He provides 55 pages of endnotes but no bibliography. For all libraries. All levels.


This work is freely available courtesy of Choice Reviews. The review has been reproduced in full in the abstract field.

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