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The Decline of Life
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Book description

The Decline of Life is an ambitious and absorbing study of old age in eighteenth-century England. Drawing on a wealth of sources - literature, correspondence, poor house and workhouse documents and diaries - Susannah Ottaway considers a wide range of experiences and expectations of age in the period, and demonstrates that the central concern of ageing individuals was to continue to live as independently as possible into their last days. Ageing men and women stayed closely connected to their families and communities, in relationships characterized by mutual support and reciprocal obligations. Despite these aspects of continuity, however, older individuals' ability to maintain their autonomy, and the nature of the support available to them once they did fall into necessity declined significantly in the last decades of the century. As a result, old age was increasingly marginalized. Historical demographers, historical gerontologists, sociologists, social historians and women's historians will find this book essential reading.


‘Ottaway‘s book, however, does serve as a model for how to write a gendered social history … historians of demography, family, society, gender, and, of course, the eighteenth century, will find much in Ottaway‘s book to interest and instruct them.‘

Source: H-Net

‘… an admirably detailed examination both of the experiences and of the expectations of the elderly in England during the eighteenth century … this should be required reading for the demographer and the social historian, but will be of interest to everyone with an historical bias.‘

Source: Family History

‘The Decline of Life is an important book that challenges what we thought we knew about old age in the past and affirms other, long held, traditional views, but most importantly it covers uncharted eighteenth-century ground and brings home the idea that one of the truest tests of any society is how it treats its dependent members, especially its old.‘

Source: Local Population Studies

‘… impressively thorough and readable … This book makes important contributions to historical scholarship in a number of ways. It also demonstrates how what could have been a narrow study of the distant past can stimulate thinking about the role of older people in all times and places.‘

Source: Population Studies

'This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. … This important book deserves the attention of urban historians and hopefully will be the touchstone for detailed micro-studies of the elderly in eighteenth-century urban England.'

Source: Urban History

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