Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England | Reviews in History
Hardcover - Today it is impossible to separate discussion of poverty from the priorities of state welfare. A hundred years ago, most working-class households avoided or coped with poverty without recourse to the state. The Poor Law The Poor Law after offered little more than a 'safety net' for the poorest, and much welfare was organised through charitable societies, self-help institutions and mutual-aid networks. Rather than look for the origins of modern provision, the author casts a searching light on the practices, ideology and outcomes of nineteenth-century welfare.
This original and stimulating study, based upon a wealth of scholarship, is essential reading for all students of poverty and welfare. Author: A. Publish Date: Jul 08, Details Description Reviews Author: A. Length: 8.
Social Life in Victorian England
Product Description. This particular edition is in a Paperback format. It was published by Palgrave and has a total of pages in the book.
To buy this book at the lowest price, Click Here. The increased scale of industry and oversees trade, together with the expansion of empire fuelled the proliferation of commerce and finance such as banks, insurance companies, shipping and railways. This system needed administrating by clerks, managers and salaried professionals.
The expansion of cities, towns and the economy produced new spaces that needing regulating and running. The Victorian period witnessed the massive expansion of local government and the centralised state, providing occupations for a vast strata of civil servants, teachers, doctors, lawyers and government officials as well as the clerks and assistants which helped these institutions and services to operate.
Such diversity makes a satisfactory definition of the middle-class impossible.
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There is no clear relationship to the means of production. Although there were some individuals that accumulated spectacular wealth in the nineteenth century through entrepreneurial activity, there were many more businessmen who scraped a living and many who worked for wages as public servants, managers or clerks. The economic boundary of the 'middle-class' was not clear.
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Some members of the middle-class used their wealth to buy land and stately homes, becoming as rich, if not richer than the aristocracy. At the same time, many members of the skilled working class could earn as much if not more than some members of the lower middle-class.
But, whilst it is difficult to talk of the Victorian middle-class as a group with a coherent outlook, they nevertheless gained coherence out of the political and social changes of the period. Giving voice to urbanisation and industrialisation this emerging middle-class emphasised competition, thrift, prudence, self-reliance and personal achievement as opposed to privilege and inheritance.
The moral terms of this outlook enabled the middle-class to accommodate diversity. Being middle class was defined by taking responsibility for one's self, one's family and the community but the precise terms of this were open to individual interpretation. The success of the middle-classes in the Victorian period can be seen in their ability to universalise a set of principles based on individuality and progress. In moving from a society based on rank and privilege to one based on free exchange, the very idea that an individual, through hard work, thrift and self reliance, could achieve social and economic success provided an equalising principle.
But, whilst the idea of social mobility was, and still is, central to legitimising the idea of a market economy, many critics of industrialisation, such as Thomas Carlyle, feared that the community was threatened by the aggressive individualism of some or the frustrated aspirations of others.
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A sense of social order was formulated in the mixing of political economy, paternalism and evangelical religion which ascribed specific roles to groups of people. The working classes were encouraged to improve but they were also reminded they should be content with their lot as labourers.
Whilst women's work, either for wages or to ensure the success of the family business, might be essential, the idealised wife and mother was prescribed the responsibility for cultivating morality and spirituality in the home as a corrective to the worst excesses of competitive industry. These perspectives were popularised in a range of books and articles in the nineteenth century but are perhaps best demonstrated by Samuel Smiles and his best seller Self Help published in Smiles argued, along with others of his time, that individuals were responsible for their own future: men had the same characteristics and potentialities that could be maximised through hard work, perseverance, thrift, prudence and self-reliance.
These ideas emphasised individuals rather than classes, morals rather than economic realities, and talked of the deserving and undeserving, the rough and the respectable, thus reducing persistent inequalities to moral rather than economic causes. In fact, the rise of the middle-classes in the Victorian period has as much to do with this recognition as the promotion of political economy.
Improvement was a key part of middle-class culture. The persistence of poverty and the tendency of the working classes not to emulate middle-class behaviour provided the impetus for a host of reform movements. The Victorian middle-class defined their own values in these attempts to make the poor 'see' their own interests. Policy proposals and reform strategies promoted middle-class values and helped to cement middle-class leadership and authority. Education reform, factory reform and the New Poor Law emphasised progress and civility through work, thrift and rationality.
The Rise of the Victorian Middle Class
But, perhaps more significantly, local voluntary societies such as Mechanics Institutes and temperance societies promoted improvement cross class communication and rational recreation. Personal narratives of success were an important part of this culture. Records of achievement were popularised and promoted in books like Self Help as examples of how all individuals could and should improve.