Genteel women

Empire and domestic material culture, 1840-1910
Lawrence, Dianne
Date published: 
October 2012

During the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth, colonial expansion prompted increasing numbers of genteel women to establish their family homes in far-flung corners of the world. This work explores ways in which the women’s values, as expressed through their personal and household possessions, specifically their dress, living rooms, gardens and food, were instrumental in constructing various forms of genteel society in alien settings. Lawrence examines the transfer and adaptation of British female gentility in various locations across the British Empire, including Africa, New Zealand and India. In so doing, she offers a revised reading of the behavior, motivations and practices of female elites, thereby calling into doubt the oft-stated notion that such women were a constraining element in new societies.