A Necessary Luxury — 2008

Tea in Victorian England

By Julie E. Fromer

“This book is a genuine tour de force.”

Deborah Denenholz Morse, author of Women in Trollope’s Palliser Novels

“A well-researched history of the development of a habit inextricably woven into England’s national identity.”

Dickens Quarterly

”Fromer draws usefully on nineteenth-century histories of and advertisements for tea. In the first third of the book this nonfictional material is used in order to propose a Victorian idealisation of tea as a ‘necessary luxury’; an idealisation that cohered around a specifically English, middle-class, and domesticated vision of a united and prosperous nation. The great success of the study is the fact that it elaborates so thoroughly and convincingly on novels that can be understood variously to underwrite, play with, or disrupt this vision.”

Victorian Studies

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Tea drinking in Victorian England was a pervasive activity that, when seen through the lens of a century’s perspective, presents a unique overview of Victorian culture. Tea was a necessity and a luxury; it was seen as masculine as well as feminine; it symbolized the exotic and the domestic; and it represented both moderation and excess. Tea was flexible enough to accommodate and to mark subtle differences in social status, to mediate these differences between individuals, and to serve as a shared cultural symbol within England.

In A Necessary Luxury: Tea in Victorian England, Julie E. Fromer analyzes tea histories, advertisements, and nine Victorian novels, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Wuthering Heights, and Portrait of a Lady. Fromer demonstrates how tea functions within the literature as an arbiter of taste and middle-class respectability, aiding in the determination of class status and moral position. She reveals the way in which social identity and character are inextricably connected in Victorian ideology as seen through the ritual of tea.

Drawing from the fields of literary studies, cultural studies, history, and anthropology, A Necessary Luxury offers in-depth analysis of both visual and textual representations of the commodity and the ritual that was tea in nineteenth-century England.

Picture of Julie E. Fromer

Julie E. Fromer teaches at Corning Community College in Corning, New York.

Cover of 'A Necessary Luxury'