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In 1888 The Society Herald described the typical day of a young bachelor: “He breakfasts, lunches, dines, and sups at the club. He is always at billiards, which he doesn’t understand, he writes innumerable letters, shakes hands a dozen times a day, drinks coffee by the gallon, and has a nod for everybody. He lives, moves, and has his being within his club. As the clock strikes 1 a.m. his little body descends the stairs and goes out through the big front door like a ray of moonlight, and until the same morning at ten of the o’clock no human being has the slightest knowledge of his existence or his whereabouts.”1 For this man, as for hundreds of other upper-class men in London, clubland constituted an entire world.2 For thousands more, clubs formed the backdrop of their lives; in the middle of the city, clubs afforded private spaces dedicated to relaxation and camaraderie. Both married and single men regarded their club as the central part of their lvies, functioning as a surrogate home. According to contemporary ideals, the family was supposed to act as the space of refuge from the chaos of the hectic modern world, and yet in the late nineteenth century clubs were taking over this essential role.

John Ruskin’s classic definition of the home centered on its role as a shelter from the physical and emotional toils of the world.3 John Tosh notes that in everyday life, the domestic ideal was so populat it addressed the needs of men who were suffering from the rapidly industrializing urban landscape.4 Family life and the home were perceived as integral to men’s identifies in the nineteenth century to a degree never before realized, as the home was both a man’s possession and where his emotional needs were satisfied.5 Yet this largely middle-class ideal was not without challenges. The homes of even the most respectable middle classes could never live up to the walled gardens of the poetic imagination. As Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall demonstrate, the separation of public and private spheres was an ideal that did not change the fact that the family and the home took on many public functions.6 The gentlemen’s clubs, seemingly in the heart of the public sphere, actually provided their members the friendly intimacy and privacy ideally located in the home.


This item was originally published in The Journal of British Studies, 45(4): 796-818. © 2006 The North American Conference on British Studies