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Reviews133 Owen Ashton, Robert Fyson, and Stephan Roberts, eds. The Duty of Discontent: Essaysfor Dorothy Thompson. London: Mansell, 1995. xii + 276. $117.00 CAN (cloth). The Duty ofDiscontent is a collection of essays by students and close colleagues of Dorodiy Thompson, emphasizing her work on Chartism, women's history, and "outsiders." The book celebrates Thompson's academic achievements only, not her life as an activist. Neville Kirk reflects diat emphasis in his useful introductory chapter, which discusses Thompson's contributions and places her in historiographical perspective. The eleven remaining chapters can be divided into four broad groups. Three chapters deal specifically widi die history of Chartism. James Epstein, in die strongest article of diis group, defends Chartist leaders as more able dian diey are often portrayed, and points out dieir overwhelming duties and difficulties. Stephen Roberts surveys "Who Wrote to die Northern Star" by reading letters to die editor in the Chartist publication. Despite a wealth of material, he offers little analysis, and so can only conclude diat die Star was a "democratic" publication diat encouraged members' activism and input. Robert Fyson completes tins section widi a biography ofJohn Richards, a local Chartist leader. All three of diese articles emphasize die enormous scale of die Chartist movement and its centrality to die lives of die working class. Four chapters deal widi social class and resistance among die poor. These are among die best in die collection, based on primary research and coming to important conclusions. Kate Tiller's excellent article, "Rural Resistance in South Oxfordshire," argues diat "enclosure could be redundant, much delayed or partial as a mechanism ofchange" (1 16) in some English counties; as a result, die old customary society did not decay until the 1870s, widi the coming of the long agricultural depression. Clive Behagg studied worker resistance to factory discipline in die nineteendi century and showed convincingly diat control of workers was a fantasy of employers, not a reality. "Informalism" was, then, not "deviant or marginal," but a central part of the factory experience (137). L.D. Smith studied the treatment of lunatics in die nineteendi century. He concludes diat social class was important in determining treatment, but it was not the only factor, and diat "class" proved to be a protean term. Finally, Glen Matthews analyzed the workings of the poor law in Worcestershire during World War I. He finds diat the ppor law administration remained largely unchanged, despite the difficulties of total war, and the result was high 134Victorian Review death rates; die financial crunch of wartime led the officials to find the least expensive way to deal with the needy. Two articles dealt specifically with women's history. Angela Johns contributed an article analyzing the suffragette writings of Elizabeth Robins, die subject of her recently-published book. Johns concludes that Robins demonstrated more interest in working-class women than most historians have given WSPU members credit for, Robins "could be patronizing and blinkered, yet she was also capable of being perceptive and witty" (208). Owen Ashton's article on Henrietta Stannard is less persuasive. Ashton argues that Stannard, a minor but prolific writer, made an important contribution to Victorian feminism. Since Stannard's only major contribution to the women's movement was brief leadership of the "No-Crinolines" League in 1893, however, her significance remains open to doubt. Finally, two articles deal explicidy with ethnicity. John Belcham's study of the Irish in Liverpool is the stronger. He concludes that the Irish built a cohesive community through "pub-based Ribbonism" and the Catholic parish. They were able to build on this community to branch out into local politics. This article is particularly interesting as a study of how ethnicity could act as a rival to class interests, yet still provide a working-class mutuality to Irish immigrants. Carl Chinn's study of Italians in Birmingham is, in comparison, disappointing. Chinn finds only a tiny community (in 1915, the peak of their population, there were 700 Italians in the city) and offers virtually no analysis. One is left unclear as to how this study relates to wider historical issues or even to the history ofBirmingham. The articles share some common concerns. All emphasize the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 133-135
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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