Popping in to See Uncle

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Jeremy Seabrook is impressed by this study of working-class life and finances

Making Ends Meet. Pawnbroking and Working-class Credit by Melanie Tebbutt

235 pp. (Leicester University Press, 1983)

This impressive and important book, with its exemplary richness and diversity of sources, gives Melanie Tebbutt's study of an under- researched aspect of working-class life a depth and texture rare even among the many excellent labour histories of recent decades. She uses recorded interviews, the journals of the credit industry, a wide range of works on social history, local newspapers, memoirs, while at the same time not disdaining to quote such writers as Walter Greenwood. Its felicitous mixture of personal testimony and general analysis gives a compelling power to her evocation of the material existence of the nineteenth-century poor. She is particularly good on the moral ambiguity of the pawn- broker's function and his (almost invariably his) crucial role as a subject for moral arguments which successfully shielded the banal mysteries of laissez-faire capitalism from closer scrutiny.

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