The Saturated World

Aesthetic Meaning, Intimate Objects, Women's Lives, 1890-1940

  • Author(s): Gordon, Beverly
  • Series:
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2006-08-10
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Hardcover - Cloth: Price $38.00 | Buy Now

The Saturated World: Aesthetic Meaning, Intimate Objects, Women’s Lives, 1890–1940 explores the way middle-class American women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries added meaning to their lives through their “domestic amusements”—leisure pursuits that took place in and were largely focused on the home. This pathbreaking study by Beverly Gordon demonstrates that these women elaborated on their everyday tasks and responsibilities by transforming them into playful, emotionally satisfying amusements. In doing so, they cultivated a heightened, aesthetically charged “saturated” state and created self-contained, enchanted worlds. Gordon explores a variety of female leisure activities of the era, including scrapbooking (collage making) party giving, dress-up, dollmaking, and collecting. Each chapter serves as a case study, and taken as a whole, the chapters provide a holistic overview of late nineteenth and early twentieth century women’s saturated worlds.

In challenging the dismissal of domestic amusements, Gordon seeks to redress the assumption that women’s domestic activities were of less value than work done outside the home. In The Saturated World, Gordon seeks to restore women’s agency—to defy the assumption that women were passive pawns who acted only out of a lack of choice or power. Women chose these pursuits on their own, Gordon argues. She contends that they were operating out of a different paradigm of culturally invested meaning, based on domestic rather than workplace values. This did not in any way diminish their achievements. Richly illustrated, The Saturated World is an unusual combination of women’s history and material culture analysis that offers fascinating insight into women’s leisure activities. It is an ideal book for students of American studies, women’s studies, material culture, and popular culture.