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Scenes from Common Life

V.G. Kiernan, 1 November 1984

A Radical Reader: The Struggle for Change in England 1381-1914 
edited by Christopher Hampton.
Penguin, 624 pp., £7.95, January 1984, 0 14 022444 0
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Riots and Community Politics in England and Wales 1790-1810 
by John Bohstedt.
Harvard, 310 pp., £12.50, November 1983, 0 674 77120 6
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The World We have Lost – Further Explored 
by Peter Laslett.
Methuen, 353 pp., £12.95, December 1983, 0 416 35340 1
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... J.F.C. Harrison has recently told us ‘about the people who are usually left out of history’ – such people as the maid-of-all-work in 1909 whose duties kept her busy from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.* Christopher Hampton gives us, in an anonymous 15th-century poem, a lament over women’s perpetual drudgery. His extract from the early feminist Mary Astell, writing in 1721, acknowledges that by comparison with Eastern women, who ‘are born Slaves, and live Prisoners all their Lives’, Englishwomen have an easy servitude, but ‘Fetters of Gold are still Fetters ...

Vomiting in the marital bed

Carolyn Steedman, 8 November 1990

Road to Divorce, England 1530-1987 
by Lawrence Stone.
Oxford, 460 pp., £19.99, October 1990, 0 19 822651 9
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Late Victorian Britain, 1875-1901 
by J.F.C. Harrison.
Fontana, 265 pp., £5.99, September 1990, 9780006861300
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... divorce rate for manual workers is four times greater than it is for professional couples. J.F.C. Harrison, in his elegant and economical account of Late Victorian Britain, reminds us of George Hewins’s grandfather, described in Angela Hewins’s The Dillen (1981), one of Stratford-upon-Avon’s abject poor, remarking around the turn of the century, that ...

Apocalypse Now and Then

Frank Kermode, 25 October 1979

The Second Coming: Popular Millenarianism 1780-1850 
by J.F.C. Harrison.
Routledge, 277 pp., £9.95
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... is a faith that invites more seductively than most the attention of the historian, and Professor Harrison, noting some very peculiar manifestations of it in the period of the Napoleonic wars and the succeeding years, has found himself a very good subject. He speaks of himself as writing ‘popular’ history and examining the ‘structure of popular ...

Nobody wants it

José Harris, 5 December 1991

Letters to Eva, 1969-1983 
by A.J.P. Taylor, edited by Eva Haraszti Taylor.
Century, 486 pp., £20, June 1991, 0 7126 4634 5
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... There are passing favourable comments on works of social history by Geoffrey Best and J.F.C. Harrison, but historians working in Taylor’s own areas of diplomatic or high-political history are almost invariably disparaged or deplored. Britain’s best-known Marxist historian is dismissed as telling ‘anecdotes rather than being a true scholar ... I can ...

Sexual Tories

Angus Calder, 17 May 1984

The Common People: A History from the Norman Conquest to the Present 
by J.F.C. Harrison.
Croom Helm and Flamingo, 445 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 7099 0125 9
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British Society 1914-45 
by John Stevenson.
Allen Lane/Penguin, 503 pp., £16.95, March 1984, 0 7139 1390 8
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The World We Left Behind: A Chronicle of the Year 1939 
by Robert Kee.
Weidenfeld, 369 pp., £11.95, April 1984, 0 297 78287 8
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Wigan Pier Revisited: Poverty and Politics in the Eighties 
by Beatrix Campbell.
Virago, 272 pp., £4.50, April 1984, 0 86068 417 2
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... rate truth, and her historical sense collapsed chronology. I was moved to remember this by J.F.C. Harrison’s ‘coda’ to his fine new book: ‘As writers like Thomas Hardy have noted, there is a certain timelessness about the common people, which means that in the last resort their experience can be expressed by myth as well as by history.’ Yes, and the ...

Victorian Consumers

Michael Mason, 16 February 1989

The Rise of Respectable Society: A Social History of Victorian Britain, 1830-1900 
by F.M.L. Thompson.
Fontana, 382 pp., £5.95, September 1988, 0 00 686157 1
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Victorian Things 
by Asa Briggs.
Batsford, 440 pp., £19.95, November 1988, 9780713445190
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... be yoked with its companion volume in the Eric Hobsbawm-edited History of British Society, J.F.C. Harrison’s Early Victorian Britain, for a proper comparison with Thompson’s undertaking: the two books have both been reissued in new editions by Thompson’s publisher, with the Hobsbawm connection dropped.* But for intellectual vitality only the Best volume ...

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