The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes: Second Edition - How This Book Challenges and Inspires Our Appreciation of Working Class Writers and Readers
The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes: Second Edition
Have you ever wondered what books people read in the past? How did they learn to read and write? What kind of education did they have? How did reading shape their worldview and identity? These are some of the questions that Jonathan Rose explores in his landmark book The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. This book provides a comprehensive and fascinating history of how the British working classes from the preindustrial era to the twentieth century educated themselves, what they read, how they read, and what they knew.
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Jonathan Rose is a professor of history at Drew University and a leading scholar of the history of reading and publishing. He is also the founder and past president of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) and coeditor of its journal Book History. He has written extensively on various aspects of British cultural history, such as popular literature, censorship, libraries, education, war, and politics.
In this book, Rose draws on a rich array of sources, such as workers' memoirs, social surveys, library registers, literary magazines, oral histories, novels, poems, plays, letters, diaries, newspapers, and more. He analyzes how these sources reveal not only what people read, but also how they read, why they read, what they learned from reading, and how reading influenced their lives. He also examines how reading intersected with other forms of cultural expression, such as writing, speaking, listening, watching, performing, singing, dancing, and painting.
The book is divided into three main parts: The Preindustrial Era (before 1800), The Industrial Era (1800-1914), and The Twentieth Century (1914-2000). Each part covers several themes and topics related to the intellectual life of the British working classes. Here are some of the highlights:
The Preindustrial Era
In this part, Rose shows how the working classes learned to read and write before the Industrial Revolution. He challenges some common assumptions about literacy in this period, such as that it was rare or limited to elites. He argues that many workers acquired basic literacy skills through various means, such as apprenticeships, religious instruction, charity schools, self-help groups, family networks, or private tutors. He also shows how workers used their literacy for various purposes, such as religious devotion, political activism, personal expression, or entertainment.
What kinds of books and genres were popular among the working classes in this period? Rose surveys the diverse and often surprising range of literature that workers read, such as chapbooks, ballads, almanacs, fairy tales, romances, histories, biographies, travel narratives, crime stories, and more. He shows how these books reflected the tastes, interests, values, and fantasies of the working classes. He also shows how these books were produced, distributed, and consumed in various ways, such as by peddlers, hawkers, fairs, markets, libraries, or book clubs.
How did reading influence political and social movements among the working classes in this period? Rose examines how reading inspired workers to challenge the status quo and demand their rights. He focuses on some of the most influential radical texts and authors of this period, such as Thomas Paine's Rights of Man, Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Robert Burns's Poems, William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, and William Cobbett's Political Register. He shows how these texts sparked debates, protests, riots, revolutions, and reforms among the working classes. He also shows how these texts were censored, suppressed, or appropriated by the authorities.
How did the working classes pursue formal and informal education to improve their lives in this period? Rose explores how workers sought to expand their knowledge and skills beyond basic literacy. He traces the development of various institutions and initiatives that supported working class education, such as Sunday schools, mechanics' institutes, mutual improvement societies, workers' colleges, correspondence courses, and adult education. He also profiles some of the most remarkable self-educated workers of this period, such as James Lackington (a shoemaker who became a bookseller), Mary Somerville (a mathematician and scientist), John Clare (a peasant poet), and Joseph Arch (a farm laborer who became a trade union leader).
The Industrial Era
In this part, Rose shows how the Industrial Revolution changed the working class culture and literacy. He argues that industrialization created new opportunities and challenges for the working classes. On one hand, it increased the demand for literacy skills in the workplace and society. On the other hand, it also increased the exploitation, alienation, and deprivation of the working classes. He analyzes how workers responded to these changes through their reading and writing practices.
The Rise of Mass Media
How did newspapers, magazines, and cheap books expand the access to information and entertainment for the working classes in this period? Rose examines how mass media transformed the production, distribution, and consumption of literature in this period. He shows how mass media catered to the diverse needs and preferences of the working classes. He also shows how mass media influenced public opinion, political participation, social reform, cultural identity, and national unity among the working classes.
The Public Library Movement
How did public libraries become a vital resource for the working class education and culture in this period? Rose traces the history of the public library movement from its origins in philanthropy to its establishment in legislation. He shows how public libraries provided free access to books, newspapers, magazines, and other materials for the working classes. He also shows how public libraries fostered a culture of reading, learning, and community among the working classes.
The Working Class Canon
What kinds of books and authors were considered classics by the working classes in this period? Rose surveys the most popular and influential books and authors that shaped the working class intellectual life in this period. He shows how these books and authors reflected or challenged the values, beliefs, and experiences of the working classes. He also shows how these books and authors inspired or influenced other writers from or about the working classes.
The Twentieth Century
In this part, Rose shows how the two world wars, social reforms, and cultural changes affected the working class intellectual life in the twentieth century. He argues that this was a period of both continuity and change for the working classes. On one hand, they continued to read and write as they had done in the previous centuries. On the other hand, they also faced new challenges and opportunities in their education, culture, and identity.
The Impact of War
How did war influence the reading habits The Impact of War
How did war influence the reading habits and preferences of the working classes in this period? Rose examines how war affected the production, distribution, and consumption of literature in this period. He shows how war created a demand for patriotic, propagandistic, and escapist literature. He also shows how war exposed the working classes to new experiences, perspectives, and cultures through their service, travel, or correspondence. He focuses on some of the most memorable literary works and genres that emerged from or responded to war, such as war poetry, memoirs, novels, comics, and magazines.
The Welfare State and Education
How did state-sponsored education and social services improve the opportunities and challenges for the working classes in this period? Rose explores how the welfare state transformed the access and quality of education and culture for the working classes in this period. He shows how the welfare state provided free or subsidized schooling, health care, housing, pensions, and other benefits for the working classes. He also shows how the welfare state encouraged or discouraged certain forms of reading and writing among the working classes. He analyzes some of the effects and limitations of the welfare state on the working class intellectual life, such as social mobility, conformity, diversity, and inequality.