The Social Experience of Bachelorhood in Late-Georgian England, c. 1760-1830

  • Helen Metcalfe

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines the social experience of bachelorhood in late-Georgian England and re-evaluates the claims that men in their bachelorhood led discontented, empty and lonely social and domestic lives. Masculinity has now emerged as a critical field within recent gender histories but the bachelor has been strikingly absent from the historical record. The new focus is on men, masculinity and domesticity, all of which associate men with the privileges of the conjugal home. The chapters in this thesis interrogate the normative status of marriage in histories of the home and the family by assessing bachelors' domestic and social lives instead. The thesis takes a qualitative approach and explores the letters, diaries and journals of men in their bachelorhood in civilian and military society, to argue that the lived experience of bachelors offers a perspective of eighteenth-century manhood that reveals a co-existing, rather than alternative model of masculinity.As men without wives, bachelors have been considered to be incomplete in some way, or assessed as men in a stage of their life-cycle - either pre-marriage or widowed. In part, this is because it has long been recognised that the power structures of the eighteenth-century home were used as a metaphor for the state, a model that was retained and reiterated in wide ranging political and moral discourse. The husband, it was suggested, occupied the pre-eminent position within this hierarchically bound familial society. A man's participation within this familial network in turn verified his political legitimacy, authority, and independence, and signalled his maturity. The bachelor thus potentially occupied a problematic position in relation to the 'ideal' man. Yet by displacing the conjugal unit as the focus of enquiry and looking through the lens of bachelorhood, this thesis reveals that these social structures were not limited to the homes of married men. The home and household played a critical role in the lives of bachelors, for whom the practical and emotional management of the household, coupled with their organisation and access to the rituals of sociability, were all equally important features of bachelors' homes.The thesis shows that, despite assumptions of their solitary lifestyles, bachelors forged meaningful and lasting bonds within wide and diverse social and familial networks. Throughout the chapters, the sociable and emotional lives of bachelors are re-considered, as are their familial, domestic and material worlds. When combined, these themes offer a much more nuanced picture of men in their bachelorhood than has been awarded them in historical analyses of the period thus far. The conclusions that are drawn from the evidence presented here suggest that too much emphasis has been placed on men's marital status, resulting in other categories of masculinity - in this case bachelorhood - being overlooked in historical research.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHannah Barker (Supervisor) & Hal Gladfelder (Supervisor)


  • Military
  • Comfort
  • Consumption
  • Material Culture
  • Emotions
  • Theatre
  • Friendship
  • Marriage
  • Household
  • Sociability
  • Family
  • Domesticity
  • Masculinity
  • Social Relationships

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