May 22, 2006


by Jonathan Rose

Jonathan Rose's wonderful book on The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes examines not only the reading and research undertaken by miners, weavers, and servants, but also asks what they thought about their reading. You'd think this was impossible to know, but it turns out that we have a surprisingly large store of journals and diaries and letters.

It's interesting, for example, that working class people quite liked The Forsyte Saga but that they tended to sympathize with Soames, the villain and Man Of Property who married a woman who doesn't love him and who eventually asserts his marital rights. You wouldn't necessarily expect this: there was plenty of radical politics and feminism in autodidact culture. But the general sentiment seems to have been that Irene was too harsh, that she didn't make the best of her (admittedly bad) situation, and perhaps also that she simply attached too much importance to sex.