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Book description

This book concerns two men, a stockingmaker and a magistrate, who both lived in a small English village at the turn of the nineteenth century. It focuses on Joseph Woolley the stockingmaker, on his way of seeing and writing the world around him, and on the activities of magistrate Sir Gervase Clifton, administering justice from his country house Clifton Hall. Using Woolley's voluminous diaries and Clifton's magistrate records, Carolyn Steedman gives us a unique and fascinating account of working-class living and loving, and getting and spending. Through Woolley and his thoughts on reading and drinking, sex, the law and social relations, she challenges traditional accounts which she argues have overstated the importance of work to the working man's understanding of himself, as a creature of time, place and society. She shows instead that, for men like Woolley, law and fiction were just as critical as work in framing everyday life.


‘A welcome addition to Carolyn Steedman's impressive body of work. As ever enlivened by the author's distinctive voice, this thought-provoking account continues her critical dialogue with classic ways of imagining the history of the English working class during the early industrial era.'

Joanna Innes - University of Oxford

‘On every page Carolyn Steedman confronts the enigma: How can we recover the history of the ordinary, the daily experiences of obscure individuals? For historians, this question is as important as it is difficult, and this book compels us to think vigourously about it.'

Jonathan Rose - Drew University

‘For many years, Carolyn Steedman has been one of the most innovative and imaginative historians of modern Britain. In this new work, she takes us into the world of the Nottingham framework knitter, Joseph Woolley. Through a detailed examination of one man's life, work and relationships, Steedman forces us to rethink our assumptions about the English working class. With its blend of small details and big ideas, An Everyday Life [of the English Working Class] is microhistory at its very best.'

Emma Griffin - University of East Anglia

'Steedman's latest innovative work of microhistory continues to challenge traditional approaches to, and assumptions about, working class life.'

Source: Morning Star

'A meticulous and engaging read.'

Source: BBC Who Do You Think You Are (magazine)

'A fascinating undertaking that will challenge your perceptions of lesser-known ancestors nestling in your tree.'

Source: Family Tree

'That it is so beautifully written in Steedman’s direct, inimitable style, so thoughtfully structured, so deeply read and footnoted, so teasing and suggestive, means that it is essential reading for anyone interested in the lives of working peoples in early nineteenth-century England. Without doubt it is the most important, and impressive, contribution to understanding the worlds of rural workers since Barry Reay’s Microhistories.'

Carl Griffin Source: Family and Community History

'… a well-informed, amusing and poignant account of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century working people. … highly recommended …'

Dave Putson Source: The Spokesman

'Steedman provides a vision of working-class life through the eyes of a worker who did not describe his life in terms of political agitation or the development of political ideas … Steedman’s books are so rewarding not just because they illuminate the lives of people in the past with such vivid clarity but because she makes you think about what it means to be a historian and about how we, as individual historians, could and should undertake our own investigations.'

Hannah Barker Source: Journal of British Studies

'Woolley’s diaries might have lingered unseen in the Nottinghamshire Archives if not for Steedman’s recognition and reevaluation of these works.'

Dawn Whatman Source: John Clare Society Journal

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