Divisions: Cultural and Social Challenges

  • Simon Dentith
Part of the Social History in Perspective book series (SHP)


In the previous chapter, I discussed the ways in which people in the nineteenth century sought to imagine and to hold together a whole social order, conceived as it were from the top down. In this chapter I wish to consider matters from the opposite perspective, from the bottom up; that is, I will be discussing the cultural forms available to the various subordinated classes of nineteenth-century England, and assessing the ways in which these cultural forms constituted challenges to the dominant social order. In other words, we will be considering the central faultline of nineteenth-century life, class, and the oppositional cultural forms available to the popular classes. In addition, we shall examine how the writings of some dissident intellectual groups were both made available to, and assimilated by, popular culture.


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, selections made and introduced by Victor Neuburg (Penguin, London, 1985), p. 303.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Mayhew’s writing is more fully discussed in Chapter 5 below.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    There is an implicit argument here with the most important piece of social and cultural history written in English since the war, E. P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class (Gollancz, London, 1963).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Robert Roberts, The Classic Slum (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1971).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    David Vincent, Bread, Knowledge and Freedom: A Study of Nineteenth-Century Working Class Autobiography (Methuen, London, 1981), p. 128.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Thomas Cooper, The Life of Thomas Cooper, with an introduction by John Saville (Leicester University Press, Leicester, 1971), p. 59.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Vincent, Bread, Knowledge and Freedom, p. 166.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    The Poorhouse Fugitives: Self-taught Poets and Poetry in Victorian Britain, edited by Brian Maidment (Carcanet Press, Manchester, 1987), pp. 18, 136.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Quoted in Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987), p. 128.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Samuel Bamford, Passages in the Life of a Radical (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1984), p. 146.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Cobbett’s writing is further discussed in Chapter 4 below.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    See, for this tradition, Edward Royle, Victorian Infidels: The Origins of the British Secularist Movement, 1791–1866 (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1974), pp. 9–58.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Barbara Taylor, Eve and the New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the Nineteenth Century (Virago, London, 1983).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    William S. Villiers Sankey, ‘Rule Britannia!’, in An Anthology of Chartist Literature, edited by Yu. V Kovalev (Literature in Foreign Languages Publishers, Moscow, 1956), p. 78.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Benjamin Stott, ‘Song for the Millions’, in Kovalev, ed., An Anthology of Chartist Literature, p. 106.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Workman’s Times, 20 Feb. 1892, p.6.Google Scholar
  17. Quoted in Stephen Yeo, ‘A new life: the religion of socialism in Britain 1883–1896’, History Workshop Journal 4 (Autumn 1977), 5–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 17.
    Raymond Williams, ‘The Bloomsbury Fraction’, in Problems in Materialism and Culture (Verso; London, 1980), pp. 145–69.Google Scholar
  19. 18.
    Harold Perkin, The Origins of Modern English Society (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1972), chs. 7 and 8.Google Scholar
  20. 19.
    John Ruskin, Praeterita, Complete Works of John Ruskin, edited by E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, 39 vols. (George Allen, London, 1908), XXXV: 13.Google Scholar
  21. 20.
    Fiona MacCarthy, The Simple Life: C. R. Ashbee in the Cotswolds (Lund Humphries, London, 1981).Google Scholar

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© Simon Dentith 1998

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  • Simon Dentith

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