Respectability of Late Victorian Workers
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Om Respectability of Late Victorian Workers
This study of the working classes of York in the late Victorian period places respectability at the heart of the interpretation of working-class culture, drawing attention to its distinctive role within working-class daily life while eschewing a class-based analysis. Through an investigation of workers' actions, choice-making and personal testimony, and using a wide range of textual and non-textual sources, a picture is produced of what it meant to be respectable in working-class communities and respectability's role in personal and community identity formation. Not only is the importance of gender-based notions of the male breadwinner and female homemaker explored, but fresh light is cast on how respectability was engaged with and negotiated in everyday contexts. Respectability is shown to be a dynamic and culturally creative process with workers building their identities within the confines of "structural" constraints, including street and neighbourhood based mores and institutions, but with a measure of self-generated cultural, social and organisational space. Far from respectability being a function of socio-economic differentiation, even the poorest are shown to have aspired to join self-help organisations and become worthy citizens. Crucially, "working-class respectability" is shown to have been moral and Christian in character-underpinned by a form of diffusive Christianity that was robust and vital rather than some kind of legacy cultural and religious phenomenon. Although different attributes of respectability could be prioritised within working-class circles, respectability is seen as a distinctive and essentially pan-class culture centred on a set of universal values which distinguished and defined the respectable citizen and separated him from imagined or real rough "Others."This study will appeal to readers interested in social and cultural history, gender studies and material culture. York inhabitants are given their own voice through hitherto unpublished, as well as published, oral and written testimony. Worker and family attitudes are analysed in the everyday contexts of work, home, neighbourhood and leisure, and as part of the wide-ranging discussion, attention is paid to the cultural significance of what working people ate and wore, and what goods they bought to furnish their often very modest homes. The emphasis throughout is on a "grass-roots" analysis, showing clearly how and why respectability answered the needs and aspirations of most ordinary Victorian and Edwardian workers and their families.