The analysis is organized thematically and looks at seven main areas: household management, the acquisition of goods, everyday consumables, material culture, family life cycle and consumption, elite consumption, and the employment of labor. The writing is a model of clarity. Each chapter begins with an overview of relevant themes and debates and the analysis that follows is enriched by comparative evidence from other
Norfolk gentry families and enlivened by excerpts from the jest book of Nicholas Le Strange, Alice’s eldest son.
The time frame of the book is important not only because it is the first detailed study of this type for the period before 1650 but also because of its concern for long-term economic and social trends. The study sets recent scholarship on the transformations of consumption patterns in the eighteenth century in context when we see that the earlier period also embraced change and innovation. The account books reveal that the Le
Stranges delighted in new inventions, goods, and practices. They grew cherries and peaches, ate turkey, enjoyed sugar comfits, washed in white soap, travelled in coaches, and bought watches, scientific instruments, and books of printed maps.
The book argues persuasively that the country gentry are a significant but neglected social group in the history of consumption because they provide a link between the elite and their luxurious lifestyles in London and at court and the more modest alterations adopted by the middling ranks in provincial and rural England.
It challenges accepted ideas about the role of the gentry in emulation and argues that social contact was the key to the spread of new forms of consumption. The Le
Stranges’ frequent trips to London provided them with new ideas and information that they passed on to parish elites at home in Norfolk.
One of the great strengths of the study is that it explores the meaning of material culture in its social context. Details of the diet and sleeping arrangements of different household members, for example, provide interesting insights into aspects of the social relations of the household. More broadly the analysis shows that consumption in seventeenth-century England was a social process. The purchase of goods and services required regular contact between the Le Stranges and a wide variety of neighbors and tradesmen from nearby towns. Men and women were employed as servants, laborers, apothecaries, and midwives to perform services for the household. Relationships were built around these contacts and were reflected in patterns of gift giving and patronage recorded in the accounts.
In important ways the book also alters existing approaches to what consumption is. The study takes a “holistic approach” that moves beyond a focus on changing patterns of ownership of objects to view consumption as a process that involved planning and household management, as well as the purchase and acquisition of goods and services. It also makes clear that scholars who stress the pleasures of consumption overlook the sheer hard work involved. Food purchase and preparation, the cleaning and maintenance of the household and its contents, and the care of children were often mundane, repetitive, tiring tasks mostly performed by women.
Issues of gender are central to the study. The book shows how spending on sons and daughters differed.
There is also welcome attention paid to the consumption activities of men. Details from the accounts are deployed to disprove the connection often made between women and shopping and to expose the different cultural values that men and women attached to consumption. Luxury consumption by Hamon Le Strange, it is argued, was used for “pleasure and leisure” and to uphold his social status and masculine identity. Alice’s consumption activities, by contrast, were governed by ideals of thrift and industry and appear to have been more concerned with the needs of her household.
In conclusion, this is a highly successful study that links a single household’s economy to a wide range of historical subjects and theoretical issues. Despite the archival riches the authors have uncovered, Alice Le
Strange herself remains hidden from view. No personal letters survive. Yet her accounts, which are meticulously recorded and intelligently interpreted in this rich and rewarding book, provide a unique window into the early modern period. For this reason the book should be recommended not just to those concerned with consumption but to all historians with an interest in seventeenth-century England.
University of Essex
JONATHAN BARRY. Witchcraft and Demonology in SouthWest England, 1640–1789. (Palgrave Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic.) New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2012. Pp. x, 373. $105.00.
Over the past two decades Jonathan Barry has developed formidable expertise in two areas of historical research. The first of these is the history of England’s southwest, with a special focus on Bristol and its hinterland, raising some important questions about the nature of provincial society in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The second is the history of witchcraft. With his new book Barry combines these two areas of expertise to excellent effect.
After an introduction that sets out his objectives with admirable clarity and also introduces the reader to both the southwest and the complexities surrounding current interpretations of witchcraft as a historical phenomenon, Barry offers six detailed case studies. The subject matter of two of these will be familiar to those with a knowledge of English witchcraft, although in both instances important new insights are offered. The first of these centers on Robert Hunt, a Somerset justice of the peace whose witch-hunting activities were put in the spotlight long ago by Joseph Glanvil’s Saducismus Triumphatus: Or, Full and Plain Evidence Concerning
Witches and Apparitions (1681). Barry places Hunt’s involvement with witch-hunting firmly in context (context, in fact, is a running theme throughout the book) 1600 Reviews of Books