The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class
The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes by Jonathan Rose
Yale University Press ix + 534 pp. ISBN 0-300-08886-
Jonathan Rose’s celebratory history challenges many cultural stereotypes and fashionable academic assumptions. He proposes an approach to the history of audiences which enters into ‘the minds of ordinary readers in history to discover what they read and how they read it’.
Rose brings into play evidence from oral history, library and school records, social surveys, correspondence and, most importantly, autobiographies and memoirs. He presents a world in which literature and print culture in general were perceived as liberating and empowering.
While many self educated memoirists testify to the importance of literature in often solitary lives, Rose argues that ‘mutual improvement drives home the lesson that no autodidact is entirely self-educated’. The tradition of collective self help, evidenced in Scottish weaving communities, mutual improvement societies, Welsh mining libraries, the WEA and clerical office culture forms the core of this study.