Death and the working class

08/10/05

New research from The University of Manchester dispels the myths around death and working-class Britain by suggesting that the expression of grief amongst this social class in fact increased during periods of poverty.

In the first book to cover the experience of the working-class attitude to death in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, Julie-Marie Strange, a lecturer in Modern British History at the University, argues against the common consensus that the poor did not mourn their dead.

Entitled 'Death, Grief and Poverty in Britain, 1870- 1914' Julie-Marie's book covers topics such as care of the corpse, the funeral, the cemetery, commemoration, and high infant mortality rates, and is a profoundly moving account with stories of love and loss.

The book draws on a broad range of sources to analyse the feelings and behaviours of the labouring poor, using not only personal testimony from the northwest (and nationally) but also fiction, journalism, social investigation and official reports from medical, parochial and governmental bodies.

It concludes that poor people did not only use spoken or written words to express their grief, but also complex symbols, actions and, significantly, silence. This book will be an invaluable contribution to an important and neglected area of social and cultural history.

Julie-Marie commented: "There has long been a conception that the experience of poverty and high mortality rates inhibited the development and manifestation of profound emotion. This is simply not true.

"Rather, middle-class observers have failed to appreciate that expressions of love and grief among the poor are just different. This book calls for recognition of that difference and for acknowledgement of the humanity of the poor."

The book, published by Cambridge University Press, will be available later this month, and is part of the 'Series Cambridge Social and Cultural Histories'.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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