Wandering sensations: supernatural discomforts and modern domesticity
Ideally, the sounds associated with the production of Victorian middle-class domesticity should never impinge on those consuming its mundane rituals and occasional pageants. Elective quiet was – and remains – one of domesticity’s most exalted properties, celebrated by writer and artist alike, and enshrined somewhat wistfully in the legal principle of ‘quiet enjoyment’. Intrusive noise threatened the comforts of domestic life, diminishing the home’s capacity to foster states of attention, recreation and sleep. Among the various moral and hygienic inducements of the emergent dormitory suburbs of nineteenth-century London was their practical distance from ‘the noise and impure air of the towns’, offering a community formed around the shared pursuit of sonic withdrawal.1 Within the home itself the task of muting extraneous noise fell to authors of domestic advice, builders and architects. In the Gentleman’s House (1864), for example, Robert Kerr, the great mid-Victorian architect of middle-class aspiration proposed a network of segregated staircases, corridors, and anterooms with an ear to insulating service noise from the resident family.2 While expensive solutions such as these dampened servant noise through isolation, they could do little if anything to quiet, say, a raucous maid from disrupting the comforts of the sitting room. Thomas Harrison Walker’s reassuringly titled Good Servants, Good Wives and Happy Homes (1862) offered no practical solution to that problem either, but he did extract an object lesson of sorts by contrasting the distressingly noisy servant with her preferred counterpart: Noise, so it would appear, gave expression to the otherwise unspeakable resentments of the put-upon, offering the beleaguered maidservant the means to temporarily overcome the household prohibitions on the ‘publishing’ of her intentions. Or rather it would have, were it not for Walker’s authoritative translation of her door-slamming and bustling tasks into the language of insolent complaint. As he makes clear at the end of his entry on ‘Quietness’, in which this account appears, the maid’s stridency offered grounds for dismissal: ‘Such servants must not expect to retain their places; they can only be borne with from unhappy necessity’.
On Discomfort: Moments in a Modern History of Architectural Culture
Studies in Human Society not elsewhere classified