Gareth Stedman Jones

Gareth Stedman Jones is a lecturer in history at Cambridge and a fellow of King’s College. His Languages of Class came out last year and a paperback edition of Outcast London: A Study in the Relationship between Classes in Victorian Society was issued in April.

Underneath the Spreading Christmas Tree

Gareth Stedman Jones, 22 December 1994

In high criticism, Victorianism is generally presented as the artless antonym of modernity. It fades away anywhere between 1901, the year of Victoria’s death, and 1910, the year of the Post-Impressionist Exhibition (the birth of the modern world, according to Roger Fry); or, more obviously, 1914.

The Flight of a Clergyman’s Wife

Gareth Stedman Jones, 27 May 1993

‘The only woman I have ever known who is a real orator, who has the gift of public persuasion’, Beatrice Webb noted when she met Annie Besant. ‘But to see her speak made me shudder. It is not womanly to thrust yourself before the world.’ Extraordinary ‘self-assurance’ was the quality picked out by Gladstone, when, as prime minister, he took time off to review Besant’s autobiography in 1893. He attributed it to the lack of a sense of sin, which enabled her to change direction without a qualm. For W.T. Stead, the crusading journalist and once her hoped-for companion in ‘a political and spiritual marriage’, she was a profound religious leader and, together with Catherine Booth and Josephine Butler, one of the three remarkable women of the century. But for another of her political companions of the 1880s, George Bernard Shaw, she was above all an actress. ‘She was successively a Puseyite Evangelical and Atheist Bible smasher, a Darwinian secularist, a Fabian socialist, a strike leader, and finally a Theosophist exactly as Mrs Siddons was a Lady Macbeth, Lady Randolph, Beatrice, Rosamund and Volumnia.’ Off-stage, her behaviour was often hard to bear. ‘Tyrannical’, ‘headstrong’, ‘proud’, ‘humourless’, ‘egotistic’ were only some of the epithets; and in the memoirs of those assigned unglamorous bit-parts in her day-to-day life, the tension remained palpable many years afterwards. According to Charles Bradlaugh’s daughter, Hypatia, ‘she was the most tactless person I ever knew.’ But even for those who disliked her methods, denied her inspiration and opposed her opinions, there was something about her which compelled admiration. To Nehru, who had known her when he was a child, she was ‘the most magnificent lady’ he ever met.

Thou shalt wage class war

Gareth Stedman Jones, 1 November 1984

Sometime in the late Sixties, I was invited, along with some senior socialist historians, to meet Bill Craik, a veteran and pioneer, so I was told, of independent working-class education. The intention was to find a practical means of honouring his work. I was taken to a tiny North London council flat, and there sitting in the middle of its cramped living-room, I encountered a very ancient and frail-looking man, striking mainly for the large and antique ear-trumpet which he applied when straining to catch remarks addressed to him. I understood little of what was said and discussion was anyway halting and discontinuous – all the more so given the technical limitations of Craik’s hearing device. The Plebs League and the Labour College movement in which he had been involved were no more than names to me. Nor did Craik noticeably react to the ripples of talk which lapped around his chair. The atmosphere rather than the words stuck in my mind: it was strangely tense for a meeting of homage, as if still agitated by the undertow of long past battles – between the Communist Party and the Independent Labour Party, between Moscow and an indigenous ‘proletarian’ Marxism, between the philosophising of the universities and Philosophy as it had been expounded at pit-heads.’


Heil Heidegger

20 April 1989

I would like to respond to the charges contained in Professor J.P. Stern’s recent letter (Letters, 22 June). First, on the matter of translating, my reference to the question ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ was not intended to be a rendition of anything written by Martin Heidegger. On the contrary, it was a clear pointer to Leibniz’s own original question, which Heidegger always...

Find the Method: Loyalty to Marx

Timothy Shenk, 29 June 2017

‘Marxism​ is still very young, almost in its infancy,’ Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in 1957, more than seventy years after Karl Marx’s death. Sartre had first read Marx three...

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Politics First

José Harris, 19 April 1984

Chartism has long been, and continues to be, of interest to historians on many different levels. To analysts of institutional change the campaign for the People’s Charter between 1837 and...

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