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In this engaging new book, Howard Chudacoff describes a special and fascinating world: the urban bachelor life that took shape in the late nineteenth century, when a significant population of single men migrated to American cities. Rejecting the restraints and dependence of the nineteenth-century family, bachelors found sustenance and camaraderie in the boarding houses, saloons, pool halls, cafes, clubs, and other institutions that arose in response to their increasing numbers. Richly illustrated, anecdotal, and including a unique analysis of The National Police Gazette (the most outrageous and popular men's publication of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century), this book is the first to describe a complex subculture that continues to affect the larger meanings of manhood and manliness in American society. The figure of the bachelor--with its emphasis on pleasure, self-indulgence, and public entertainment--was easily converted by the burgeoning consumer culture at the turn of the century into an ambiguously appealing image of masculinity. Finding an easy reception in an atmosphere of insecurity about manhood, that image has outdistanced the circumstances in which it began to flourish and far outlasted the bachelor culture that produced it. Thus, the idea of the bachelor has retained its somewhat negative but alluring connotations throughout the rest of the twentieth century. Chudacoff's concluding chapter discusses the contemporary "singles scene" now developing as the number of single people in urban centers is again increasing. By seeing bachelorhood as a stage in life for many and a permanent status for some, Chudacoff recalls a lifestyle that had a profound impact on society, evoking fear, disdain, repugnance, and at the same time a sense of romance, excitement, and freedom. The book contributes to gender history, family history, urban history, and the study of consumer culture and will appeal to anyone curious about American history and anxious to acquire a new view of a sometimes forgotten but still influential aspect of our national past.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780691070551
ISBN-10: 0691070555
Format: Paperback
(229mm x 152mm x 22mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Princeton University Press
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publish Date: 28-Aug-2000
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » Scholarly but never dusty, this vivid study examines the salacious, sensuous bachelor lifestyle at the height of its prominence from 1880 to 1920. Chudacoff(History/Brown Univ.) deftly plies statistics to demonstrate how socioeconomic changes of the mid-19th century swelled the ranks of urban, unmarried men and forged them into a class apart with distinct organizations, morality, media, and myths. Immigration from northern and eastern Europe created a new paradigm of living arrangements for men in their teens and twenties, outside the natal home and independent of parental supervision. Boarding houses and YMCA hotels sprang up to accommodate the ever-growing ranks of restless, middle-class bachelors, not socialized enough (and perhaps too insecure) to establish their own hearth and home. By the 1880s, the concentration of young single men in America's largest cities had created enterprises catering to their commercial demands: barber shops, pool halls, comer saloons, amusement parks, even the bizarre "taxi dances," where ladies of moderately ill repute sold admirers the right to a dance. Particularly interesting is Chudacoff's survey of the popular National Police Gazette, whose randy accounts of sex crimes, descriptions of sports heroes' exploits, and advertisements for impotence cures give the reader a whimsical snapshot of the Victorian bachelor's obsessions. The author also does a fine job of addressing the related question of homosexual relations, an almost unsolvable riddle given the paucity of written evidence of gay intimacy from that time. Overall, the reader comes away with a clearer idea of the separateness of bachelor life, a collective alienation difficult to fully imagine in our world of later marriage and long-term cohabitation. Chudacoff's research and methodology are admirable, offering a fine mix of evidence, anecdote, biographical account, and sociological material to explore all important aspects of his subject. A well-rounded view of the turn-of-the-century bachelor, particularly valuable to readers drawn to the cultural landscape of Victorian America. (Kirkus Reviews)


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