The Emotions of Motherhood: Love, Culture, and Poverty in Victorian Britain

The Emotions of Motherhood: Love, Culture, and Poverty in Victorian Britain Abstract Is maternal love biologically determined and independent of class and culture, or is it fluid and changeable, shaped by the social context within which individuals find themselves? Recent work on the history of emotions has encouraged us to regard not simply the outward cultural configurations of human emotion as mutable and changeable, but also the actual emotions themselves. Yet so deeply rooted is the Western belief that mothers’ love for their children is natural and innate that scholars have struggled to envisage parental love in the past as differing significantly from that in the present. Looking at working-class mothers in Victorian Britain, this article argues that the very different norms and values surrounding motherhood in this historical context did indeed create a different range of emotional experiences. It also, however, seeks to deepen our understanding of why emotions take the precise forms they do. By shifting focus away from the social elites who form the mainstay of most emotions history, this article offers new insights into the ways in which societies construct and experience their emotional norms. autobiography, emotions, gender, life-writing, motherhood Are the emotions that tie family members together fixed in form and ahistorical in nature? Or are they fluid and changeable, contingent upon the context and culture within which individuals are placed? When historians began to study the family in the 1970s, the formal parent-child relationships they observed in the nineteenth century and earlier appeared to suggest that mothers felt little love for their offspring, and led some to suggest that maternal love was not a timeless, biological instinct, but a creation of the modern Western world—as Edward Shorter boldly put it, “good mothering is an invention of modernisation.”1 Yet no sooner had these dark thoughts been uttered than scholars busied themselves with denying their possible truth. Linda Pollock, for example, retorted that “the thesis of a dramatic transformation in the capacity for experiencing emotion is a myth. There is no such transformation.” “Parental care,” she concluded, “would appear to have altered little from the 16th century to date.”2 Although this statement was made more than thirty years ago, the emphasis on the transhistorical and constant nature of parental love can be found throughout the recent literature. Whether looking at elite or non-elite groups, at mothers or fathers, at Europe or the United States, historians advance much the same set of claims about the essentially unchanging nature of the love parents feel for their children. Indeed, even the discipline’s recent “emotional turn,” with its focus upon the mutability of emotions, has done little to shake family historians’ faith in the constancy of parental love over time.3 Of course, these arguments are constructed in different ways as historians attend to specific times, places, and social constituencies. Those looking at middle- and upper-class families have devoted considerable attention to uncovering the multiple, fragmentary, and sometimes contradictory conceptions of fatherhood and motherhood available to elite parents.4 Yet the ways in which these complex ideals map onto emotional experiences of family life have received far less attention. This—so far as it is considered at all—is regarded as something fixed. As one scholar reminds us, “fathers then, as now, were bound to their children by powerful and primitive emotions.”5 Another observes that while cultural ideals changed, “[t]he innate emotions of parenthood did not.”6 Those looking at non-elite families have by necessity developed their arguments along different lines. Even the most superficial survey of the available sources reveals that parents tended to be less overtly affectionate and demonstrative toward their children than is customary today. But this behavioral difference is not interrogated for what it may say about how human emotions can change over time. Instead it is presumed to illustrate how the cultural codes governing how love can be expressed have changed. It is suggested that working-class parents did not use intimacy and affection to raise their children in ways that are immediately recognizable as “love” to modern observers; they demonstrated their love instead in the labor required to house, feed, and clothe dependent family members.7 Thus in contrast to the first generation of family historians, who read the evidence of vastly different parenting practices as evidence of different emotional experiences, most work on the Western family published since the late 1990s emphasizes the continuity of certain core inner emotions despite these changing external forms. When set against the burgeoning literature on the history of the emotions, however, there is something troubling about the working assumption that the emotional ties that bind family members together are ever fixed in form.8 Admittedly, the separation of mutable outward cultural forms from a more stable set of inner emotions has served a strategically useful function in allowing scholars to discuss unfamiliar parenting styles and values. It was obviously unsatisfactory to upbraid historical constituencies for their failure to conform to modern ideals of intense emotional bonds within the nuclear family, and discriminating between changing cultural forms and a static emotional core has permitted historians to discuss historical difference without passing moral judgment. In reality, however, recent assessments still embody normative judgments about the correct nature of emotional life, both past and present. After all, as emotions historians have pointed out, all scholars bring their own experience to the material they study.9 Historians of the family bring to bear a lifetime’s personal immersion in family life and years of exposure to prevailing ideas about the place of women in the domestic and familial sphere. Indeed, the oft-repeated claim in the historical literature that love forms the core of mother-child relationships bears a striking resemblance to ideas about the primacy of love in mother-child relationships that have circulated in the Anglophone world in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.10 Emotions history invites us to step outside the norms of our own culture and offers a genuinely different way of understanding historical societies in all their specificity. As the history of emotions continues its rapid development as a distinct field of study, its central tenets become more difficult to summarize.11 Nonetheless, important contributions by Peter Stearns, Barbara Rosenwein, and others have done enough to force a fundamental rethink of the assumption that emotions are unchanging.12 Particularly pertinent to this study of the emotional underpinnings of family life is William Reddy’s concept of “emotional regimes,” laid out most fully in his The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions.13 In this work, Reddy posits a direct relationship between a society’s cultural configurations for emotional expression and the actual emotions experienced. Not only are both mutable, he suggests, but a society’s emotional norms and expectations—its “emotional regime”—have tangible emotional consequences for those who live within it. This provides a powerful new way of thinking about family life. Clearly, if Reddy is correct that cultural norms and expectations play a role in shaping one’s inner emotional experiences, then the claim that the ideas and language surrounding family life changed while inner emotions did not must be rejected. In Reddy’s formulation, different emotional regimes create, ipso facto, different emotional experiences, and the historian’s task therefore becomes to explore how. Since Reddy set out this template in 2001, the field has burgeoned. We now have numerous studies of discrete emotions, and while some of this literature confines itself to tracking changing cultural scripts in essentially familiar ways, emotions history at its most innovative seeks to probe the territory between cultural scripts and emotional life, between expression and experience.14 Indeed, it is arguably this marriage of poststructuralist insights concerning the free-floating nature of discursive tropes with the much older social historian’s concern to understand the lived experience of historical actors that has made recent research in emotions history such a distinctive and fertile form of inquiry. Yet despite the great growth in emotions history in recent years, there remain some large gaps. When Peter and Carol Stearns first put the history of the emotions on the historical map in 1985, they highlighted the difficulty of accessing the emotions of the lower classes, adding that this difficulty provided no grounds “for neglect of a basic ingredient of human history.”15 Arguably, however, the Stearnses’ intervention has been less effective in this regard than in any other. Almost all of the recent work that explicitly engages with the emotions takes middle- or upper-class subjects as its focus. As Susan Matt and Peter Stearns soberly conclude in their recent survey of the field, the emotional history of articulate groups “is clearly easier to do” than work on groups “that less actively consume any formal literature.” We thus know “far more … about the emotional experiences of the upper and middle classes than about the working classes and the impoverished.”16 It is, of course, hardly necessary to point out that the poor have always had emotions, too, and that uncovering them constitutes a worthwhile historical project. We need to challenge the tenets of a fast-growing historical specialism that has yet to consider the consequences of excluding large parts of the population. As a generation of postcolonial historians have forced us to recognize, when we attempt to reconstruct past worlds through the eyes, words, and deeds of powerful white men, our reconstructions reproduce the politics and perspectives of those white men in subtle ways.17 Different historical actors have differential access to resources, education, and power, and thus uneven means to create an archive. Furthermore, the project of interrogating the silent voices of subordinate subjects has not simply added to our understanding of imperialism; it has upended earlier narratives that were founded on their exclusion. Differential access to archive creation is not a problem only for the global historian. The same problems exist for European societies, too, with their complex social and gender hierarchies and unequal distributions of goods and power. Thus it is important to look at a non-elite constituency not simply to provide a parallel body of emotions history for the poor and female—to mark out a new and separate silo in which we can carry on business as usual, sketching out emotional trajectories for an as yet unstudied social constituency—but also so that we can think more deeply about how emotions are fashioned, experienced, and expressed, and about how one’s place in the social order feeds into this process. The love between a mother and her child is one of the most elemental of human emotional experiences. But how has that connection been expressed across time and culture? This narrative is located in a specific time and place—Victorian Britain—but its focus on working-class experiences opens to a much more universal set of themes concerning how a lack of the basic necessities impacts upon human emotions. What happens to emotional life when mothers do not enjoy access to adequate food, decent housing, healthcare, or an effective means to limit their family size? Hunger, tiredness, cold, physical discomfort, lack of privacy, and lack of peace and quiet do not constitute part of a society’s cultural codes or emotional regime; nor are they the same as the emotions themselves. But it is, at the very least, reasonable to ask whether such things affect the ability of a woman to mother her children. How, for example, does a family maintain loving ties when its members are forced to compete to fulfill their basic human needs for food, space, and rest? How does a mother experience love when she is hungry and those she is supposed to love have a claim on her own limited rations? Unpacking the emotional experience of life within the working-class family opens up a raft of questions about the interplay of the cultural and the emotional and invites a reconsideration of our subdiscipline’s conceptual frameworks. The critical bibliography of British working-class autobiography compiled by John Burnett in the 1980s provides a rich resource for life-writing by those born into impoverished working-class families in Britain between 1840 and 1903, enabling us to take a close look at childhoods down to the outbreak of World War I.18 Autobiography has long formed the mainstay of historical inquiry into family life, but its use is of course not without problems.19 Carolyn Steedman’s superb and self-aware account of her childhood in postwar London reveals the storytelling involved in chronicling one's own life and highlights the difficulty of bridging the gap between written accounts of childhood and earlier lived experiences.20 It is a problem that many scholars have addressed, and one that we will also have to consider in due course.21 A rather different concern, however, is the extent to which we can generalize from such sources at all. Writers inevitably experienced family life in highly unique ways, so many different kinds of mothers are described in the sources. With so many competing voices, how are we to decide what was “normal” and what was atypical? As a first step, this analysis has worked comprehensively through all surviving autobiographies—more than four hundred in all. In addition, we must ask: Do those records capture the full range of working-class society, including those from the most impoverished and marginal quarters? It is well known that autobiographers tend to have achieved something of note by the time they wrote their autobiographies. Did these future achievements correlate with a set of family characteristics that all had shared earlier in life? In fact, so far as it is possible to measure “typical” working-class family characteristics, our sample of autobiographies corresponds well with what we know about Victorian Britain. In terms of geographical origins, family size, and family structure, those who wrote autobiographies closely mirror the wider public.22 Thus, while some (though by no means all) of the autobiographers went on to achieve something of sufficient note to justify the writing of an autobiography, there is nothing that stands out as unusual about their families of origin. Of course, there is more to interpreting the stories contained in the autobiographies than simply demonstrating that the authors’ families of origin were representative of working-class families more broadly. Autobiographical accounts involve the reinterpretation of earlier lived events at many years’ remove, the rendering of complex lived experiences into simple, intelligible narratives, acceptable to surviving family members, to the book-buying public, or to other audiences.23 Inevitably, finished works contain silences, absences, and contradictions, all of which will need to be addressed. Yet for all their complexity, these slippery sources offer the best, indeed the only, way of penetrating the private recesses of the working-class family. What did working-class culture in Victorian Britain expect of mothers? How were mothers supposed to behave? Such apparently simple questions are far from straightforward when we look at those who left little in the way of written records. Conduct books, novels, sermons, and the like form the material to which historians usually turn in order to reconstruct cultural values, but how does one proceed with subjects who have signally failed to bequeath an archive of this nature? In the absence of such records, some attempts have been made to use ballads and songs to reconstruct the mental horizons of the working classes, but such approaches are beset by the fact that scholars are generally unable to establish the authorship of printed versions of songs and ballads.24 We are therefore forced back to the autobiographical records as the only place where working-class people themselves routinely articulated their family values. But in order to use autobiographies to reconstruct Victorian cultural values, we must appreciate that these sources are not, for the most part, from the Victorian period at all. A handful of individuals born early in Queen Victoria’s reign wrote their autobiographies during its twilight years, but the majority were born after 1850 and did not get around to writing their life stories until the twentieth century—a time of rising affluence and rapidly changing cultural values.25 Autobiographers born at the end of our period typically wrote their life stories in the 1960s, the 1970s, even occasionally the 1980s, by which point ideas about motherhood had changed vastly from those that prevailed at the time the writer was born and raised.26 As a result, autobiographical writing does not capture Victorian values in a straightforward fashion. Instead, it captures the writer’s reevaluation of his or her early years in the light of a new cultural climate. This does not prevent the use of twentieth-century sources to reconstruct earlier Victorian values, but it does require us to explore the writing strategies that authors used to negotiate the difference between contemporary norms and their own earlier experiences. It is immediately clear that there was considerable shared terrain among a large number of writers concerning what constituted a good Victorian mother.27 Good mothers, they agreed, worked tirelessly to ensure a clean, well-ordered home. Their duties involved the wise spending of a husband’s meager wage, and the endless rounds of cleaning, cooking, and sewing necessary for the physical well-being of the family. Time and again, autobiographers indicated how their mother measured up to this ideal. “She counted and took care of the scanty wages. She planned out the week’s needs.”28 She “scrupulously remov[ed] every speck of dirt or dust from the uneven stone floor.”29 She was “up with the lark in the summer, and long before daylight in winter, preparing the meagre morning meal of oatmeal and skimmed milk.”30 A mother’s role was not primarily to earn the wherewithal to keep the family. It was to transform the husband’s wages into a tolerably comfortable domestic existence for each and every member of the family. The regularity and ease with which writers recorded their mothers’ household labor points to the strong association between motherhood and housekeeping in working-class culture. Indeed, housekeeping was not only the dominant motif among twentieth-century autobiographers; it was also the vernacular used by Victorian autobiographers (who were for the most part describing childhoods before the Victorian period). It is remarkable that working-class autobiographers writing prior to the twentieth century provided scarcely any information about their mothers, and certainly very little of a personal nature. Mothers were described (if at all) in a handful of words: she was a “good help-mete,” a “thoughtful, thrifty mother,” a “most persevering, industrious woman.”31 Any more extended discussion invariably turned exclusively upon the work she did, whether paid or unpaid, on her family’s behalf. Mothers were remembered for their “toiling life,” for “toiling hard to keep the home together,” or for their “hard struggle” in the home.32 Indeed, so far as we can decipher from autobiographies written during the Victorian period, motherhood was at that time conceived and described almost wholly in terms of the physical rather than emotional labor that it involved. Clearly, though, by the twentieth century, writers no longer wanted to limit their discussion of childhood to the efficiency with which their mother had performed the labor of the home. Conceptions of motherhood in the nineteenth century had started to lay a heavy emphasis upon a mother’s supposed natural capacity for love and nurture, and these ideas became widely disseminated in the twentieth.33 This provided a new framework within which working-class autobiographers could reevaluate their own early years and opened up a space for discussion of the more intimate elements of family life.34 Certainly, many of the autobiographical writers had experienced something close to the warm, nurturing mother-child bond now emphasized by psychologists, though they often lacked clear and consistent language with which to discuss it. A few writers helpfully used that familiar word “love.” Arthur Newton, for example, recalled being “loved and cared for in a simple sort of way” by parents who “were rich in love and affection.”35 But most writers invested “love” with their own, often rather idiosyncratic set of meanings, and many bypassed the concept altogether. After all, as Elizabeth Bryson put it, families like hers were “shy of the word ‘love.’”36 Instead, “love” was just one of several ways in which writers tried to indicate well-being within the family. Autobiographers wrote about “affection” rather than “love,” and drew attention to particular maternal qualities, such as gentleness, warmth, kindness, good humor, and sympathy.37 They recalled such things as the “smile on her face,” or her “large heart” and “warm temperament.”38 Other writers highlighted specific acts of kindness and care.39 These working-class writers had been raised in a context without a neatly formulated cultural convention validating the place of love in mother-child relationships, and this left them without a simple, ready-made language. But the absence of clearly articulated concepts did not preclude the existence of strong mother-child bonds. Clearly many mothers had found their own ways of creating a significant emotional connection with their children. Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Motherhood was increasingly idealized in Victorian society. This image from a popular illustrated newspaper depicts a loving mother firmly situated within her domestic setting. Charlotte J. Weeks, “Evening,” The Graphic, December 30, 1882. Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Motherhood was increasingly idealized in Victorian society. This image from a popular illustrated newspaper depicts a loving mother firmly situated within her domestic setting. Charlotte J. Weeks, “Evening,” The Graphic, December 30, 1882. At the same time, however, we must not get too carried away by the ability of poor women to transcend their culture’s restricted vision of motherhood. This, after all, might be expected to some degree. Emotional norms do not have to be universally obeyed, and individuals will always construct their emotional lives from prevailing cultural norms in distinct and unique ways. Furthermore, the alternative possibility must also be considered: cultural codes underscoring the importance of material rather than emotional care may not have prevented the development of loving familial relationships, but did they play any role in limiting or restricting the emotional bonds between mothers and their children? The evidence on this score is rather more depressing, for if we look closely at the family lives described in the autobiographies, it appears that the focus on housekeeping was not an effective or reliable mechanism for sustaining emotional well-being. In fact, cultural configurations of motherhood that emphasized material rather than emotional care helped to foster mothering styles in which maternal love was difficult for children to discern. Admittedly, performing the expected rites of motherhood could elicit a positive emotional response. A bowl of hot, tasty food or an item of hand-stitched clothing could protect a vulnerable young child immersed in a world of deprivation from the cold, harsh elements, and have significance beyond the purely material. As Edward Humphries recalled, his mother’s ability to keep the family well fed even when times were hard “brought comfort to us all.”40 Yet in more than four hundred autobiographies, connections between housekeeping and well-being were only occasionally drawn, and writers were far more likely to comment upon the disconnect between the two. Authors were capable of writing about their mothers’ devotion to housework in remarkably neutral tones. Harry Pollitt remembered all “[t]hat cleaning of the front step and flags! That scrubbing down of the back-yard! Those steel fenders and fire-irons! Those brass candlesticks that had to be polished till you could see your face in them!” Yet he thought that the struggle to keep everything clean was not an act of love, but a subterfuge so that “people thought you were better off than you ever dared hope to be.”41 Arthur Goffin declared that his mother was “never really happy unless she was working in one capacity or another,” though he also noted that the unending work made her difficult and irritable.42 Edward Brand’s mother catered for her family to the point of obsession. She “was always busy cooking, baking bread, jam making, pickling, wine making and ham curing.” She was, in fact, “an expert wine maker.” But she was also “quiet and reserved [and] never seemed to have time to play and read to us.” She was “very strict,” and “we never got the love from her that we did from Father who would take us on his knee and sing all the old songs to us.”43 Many autobiographers recognized their mother’s struggle to manage the household’s scant resources: to put meals on the table, clothes on everyone’s backs, and boots on everyone’s feet. It was, they recognized, hard, useful, and backbreaking work. At the same time, however, this contribution was not usually read as an act of love in the eyes of children. Furthermore, as the twentieth century progressed and working-class writers became more comfortable with the thought that love and intimacy held a central place in mother-child relationships, authors became more willing to explore the space between modern values and their own earlier experiences. Take, for instance, George Acorn, who was raised in desperate poverty in a one-room hovel with a hard-drinking and often unemployed father and a mother who was “incapable” of affection. As a child, he felt unloved and unsafe. The warring between his parents was continuous, with regular nighttime rows that had the children cowering in their beds and the neighbors racing upstairs to separate the combatants.44 When she was not fighting with her husband, Mrs. Acorn battled against her eldest son, using taunts and physical violence to extract compliance. As an adult, George could recognize that his mother, living with a precarious breadwinner and too many children (one of whom died before the age of two), faced multiple challenges. “Her struggles to supply our physical needs, especially during my father’s enforced absence, were quite, quite heroic.” Yet her heroic toil could not fill the void created by her years of harsh words and rough treatment. “If only to her strength of purpose had been added some spiritual sympathy, some ray of tender love, I know I should have responded with generous affection—my mother would have been so much to me.”45 There were others who shared similar stories about mothers who were effective housewives yet were at best emotionally distant, at worst outright hostile. Kathleen Woodward mused that she had been bound to her mother by “ties which existed without love or affection.” Her mother “sweated and laboured for her children, equally without stint or thought, but was utterly oblivious to any need we might cherish for sympathy in our little sorrows, support in our strivings. She simply was not aware of anything beyond the needs of our bodies.”46 It was the absence of affection that Amy Grace Rose also remembered the best. As a child, she “always used to feel that nobody loved me.” Her mother was a “severe kind of woman … not kind and gentle”; it was unthinkable to “put [your] arms around her and kiss her.”47 Faith Osgerby’s mother was a competent housewife who worked hard for her husband and seven children, one of whom was unable to walk. But these competencies did not compensate, in Faith’s eyes, for a childhood that “was really ruled by FEAR” and was devoid of affection—“I can never remember in all my life being cuddled or kissed or ‘loved’ as we love our babies today.”48 Hannah Mitchell also made a clear distinction between good housekeeping and good mothering. With respect to the former, her mother could not be faulted—she was a well-dressed housewife, with “everything in order”; “[w]ork and cleanliness were her gods.”49 “But her temper was so uncertain that we lived in constant fear of an outbreak.” Her “violent passions,” triggered by “the merest trifles,” could last for days and sometimes ended with the children spending the night without food out in the barn.50 Clean or not, it was not, Hannah concluded, “a good atmosphere to grow up in.”51 Not only was efficient housekeeping no guarantee of a child’s emotional well-being, but the reverse was also emphatically true: relationships could thrive even without much skill in the housekeeping department. Frederick Spencer admitted that his mother was “no Martha.” She had “no special love for housework,” was “[u]ntidy [and] unmethodical,” and had very little interest in “the eternal round of cooking, scrubbing, cleaning, mending.” But she was “sweet” and had a “good heart.” In her son’s eyes, she made “a good home … in non-material things.”52 Elizabeth Flint made the rare confession that although “washday was on Monday really … Mum did not always bother.” She sometimes left it for another week, and even after she did the wash, “the clothes never looked much better.” But it did not really matter, because Elizabeth’s mother nonetheless created a home full of “love and true kindliness.”53 Good housekeeping was the dominant cultural convention defining the working-class mother. It was the motif to which writers returned over and over again, and it was not, as many of the writers make clear, commensurate with the love that children craved. But it was not the only norm to inflect family life. Physical chastisement was legal and socially acceptable in Victorian Britain, and widely used in schools, workplaces, homes, and families. Of course, as most family historians remain wedded to a model of unchanging emotional experiences, the reality of physical punishment is not allowed to disrupt the narrative of the loving working-class family. Jane Humphries, for example, suggests that “mothers’ chastisement was [a] mundane” experience, because women, lacking the strength and size of their husbands, were “less able to hurt.”54 It is certainly true that some writers did recall the punishments of their childhood as a mundane experience. One described how a stick that was used to stir dirty clothes was applied to “our backs when we tried her patience beyond endurance.”55 A writer from Wales recounted the absurdity of going into the woods to find the birch branch (“jinni fetw”) that would be used on his own back.56 Corporal punishment is everywhere in the autobiographies. It was socially and culturally acceptable, and some writers internalized these norms. As Humphries says, they simply “made light of it.”57 But to dismiss the significance of physical punishment because it was doled out by women fails to do justice to the meaning of those acts. Women may have been smaller than men, but when they used sticks and belts to punish, they had the capacity to both shame and injure their children, and posed a serious threat to their emotional well-being. As attitudes toward child discipline became more lenient in the twentieth century, autobiographical writers became ever more willing to reconsider a childhood dominated by violence, a childhood that was manifestly different from that enjoyed by children at the time of writing.58 Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was considerable overlap between writers who complained of emotionally distant mothers and those who reported high levels of violence. George Acorn, Kathleen Woodward, and Faith Osgerby all had a large stock of such memories. Acorn remembered countless thrashings, a “good hiding,” “savage punishment,” and objects of various kinds being hurled in his direction—a fork, a loaf of bread, a knife, “a perfect fusillade of cups” that had been sitting on the table.59 Woodward’s mother’s anger was “frequent and violent,” and “she aimed her blows without feeling or restraint.” Once she split Kathleen’s head open, and another time she aimed a fork at her, “which dangerously pierced my side.”60 Although Osgerby could not remember ever having been “cuddled or kissed or ‘loved’” as a child, she could remember being hit only too clearly. The punishment, she grimly recalled, “was always done by my mother, and truly she was very capable at the job.” Her bottom “was smacked so very often sometimes for such small faults, such as a sulky look … if any of us cried for some reason she was not aware of we got a smacked bottom so that she would know what we were crying for.”61 Many other writers had their own tales to tell. Jack Lawson described several incidents of physical violence at the hands of his mother, including one time when she tore into the children’s bedroom in a fury and ripped off their clothes, and “a leather strap swished and crackled against our bare bodies.”62 Such was her loss of control that her husband ordered her to stop, fearful for his children’s lives. One writer remembered a mother’s “solid, terrifying discipline”; another recalled living in fear of a “cruel and spiteful” mother with a short temper and a cane that was frequently taken down from its place on the wall.63 To suggest that incidents such as these are “mundane” and can be straightforwardly accommodated within the framework of loving parents is a shameful misreading of the evidence. Furthermore, the autobiographies reveal that although occasional corporal punishment might be accommodated within families, high levels of violence were detrimental to the quality of the emotional tie between mother and child. Among Hannah Mitchell’s complaints about her mother were her “nagging, ravings and beatings.”64 It was not the basis of a successful relationship, she concluded, but helped to create “an antipathy … between us, which lasted all our lives.”65 Another linked the violence she experienced to more general feelings of fear that pervaded her childhood: she had “lived in a world uncertain and often afraid … My mother’s face, when I touched her, was always cold and I knew that all was not well.”66 Almost none of those who reported high levels of physical punishment did so in the context of loving family relationships. Sticks, straps, and belts may have been commonplace, but they still had the power to damage. It is clear from this evidence that the standard claims about the working-class family fail to capture some of the darker aspects of their intimate life. The harsh mothers of George Acorn and Kathleen Woodward are well known to British family historians, yet there has been a collective refusal to accept that their accounts of emotional and physical abuse might upend the established narrative. Instead, their stories are dismissed as “atypical” or even ingeniously reworked to find a “statement about mother love” or the “great, loving maternal instinct” within the Victorian working class.67 This is a distortion of what Acorn, Woodward, and many others were trying to say. Their point, rather, was that while their mothers were hardworking and industrious within the home, they were also emotionally distant, at times physically abusive, and that this mattered. It is time to engage seriously with these non-standard narratives, and to situate these mothers and their unhappy children within our historical understanding of the emotions of family life. It is also clear that the emotions framework, with its emphasis on the mutability of human emotions, is more convincing than the cultural history paradigm of underlying continuity in human emotion across time and space. The autobiographies reveal just how powerful cultural constructs really were. A construction of motherhood stripped bare of emotional content did not automatically strip all loving emotion from the heart of mother-child relations as well—as we have seen, many mothers did forge successful intimate relationships with their children, these precepts notwithstanding. But it certainly played a role in validating and sustaining patterns of maternal behavior that left children feeling unloved. This point was explained with great clarity by one autobiographical writer. Elizabeth Coleman accepted that her parents had conformed to Victorian expectations: “True, my brothers and myself had a good home, inasmuch as we were well fed and decently clothed.” But she also recalled having been raised in an austere emotional environment. She had been “brought up to fear and obey my parents, and had known little of love or great kindness.” She had no memory of “cuddling or kissing” in the family, but had not forgotten her mother’s fist—it had been “used to great effect.” These things clearly played a significant role in shaping her final assessment: “I do not think that I loved either of my parents,” she concluded.68 And this, following Reddy, constitutes a core working principle for historians of the emotions: culture does not just describe emotional life, it shapes it. It is clear that many mothers managed to live up, in some measure, at least, to the usual expectations of motherhood. They kept their offspring housed, fed, and clothed, even if some were less successful at meeting the children’s emotional needs. But as we continue to read across the autobiographies, we are forced to confront an uncomfortable truth: not all mothers managed even this. In a number of cases, mothers were unable to fulfill even the most basic of duties, such as the provision of food, warmth, and shelter. Getting at these kinds of experiences, however, poses new challenges. While changing ideas about the treatment of children in the twentieth century opened up a space for writers born in the Victorian period to discuss matters that had previously been out of bounds, such as the extent to which they had felt loved and nurtured and how they had experienced physical punishment, there were some things that had not changed. Mothers were not supposed to be alcoholics. They were not supposed to neglect their children, or to raise them in dirty, squalid conditions. They were certainly not supposed to abandon them. And the ongoing hold of these expectations posed problems for writers who had experienced something that lay outside any recognizable social norm. In the 1990s, with the publication of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir, a new literary genre—the misery memoir—provided a template for writing about such themes. But the autobiographies discussed here were penned many years before the emergence of the misery memoir. Our authors had no model for describing parental neglect, and almost no appetite for doing so.69 They deployed a number of different strategies. For example, when recalling her hard childhood and the many chores she had had to perform for her mother, Mrs. Wrigley placed her complaints in the mouth of her sister: “I am not saying what my other sister said, but she thought my mother was very cruel.”70 Flora Thompson shielded her drunken father by writing her autobiographical memoirs in the third person and with names of individuals and places changed—though even with this precaution, she left out the more unsavory aspects of his behavior.71 Kathleen Hilton-Foord turned to poetry. The prose version of her autobiography provided a simple narrative account of her childhood with her grandmother; the verse version revealed the emotional pain caused by her exclusion from the home her parents shared with her four brothers—the heavy “feeling of rejection” that she carried around for years afterward.72 Others opted simply to omit any discussion of their early years at all. Frank Bullen wrote four volumes of autobiographical reminiscences, but it was only in the fourth that he referred to his early home life and the absence of his mother, and even then he did so in the most coded of terms.73 Earlier versions of his lengthy life story had begun when he was age nine. In reality, of course, most authors could not tell their life story without at least some reference to their childhood, and the failure of basic care or the absence of a mother was so obvious and so serious that it was generally impossible to avoid letting some details slip out. Yet the memory of such things could be unpleasant and difficult. Herbert Harris wrote about his separation from his mother and his subsequent incarceration in an orphanage some seventy years after it had happened, yet he confessed that “even now I have pangs of anguish and depression when I give thought to the story.”74 He, like many others, wanted to brush over negative experiences and offered no more than the sketchiest outline of this part of his life.75 As a result, new reading strategies are required to make sense of life stories that were incomplete, muddled, or incoherent. Consider, for instance, Les Moss’s verdict regarding his mother. She was, he declared, “a good mother”; in fact, she “couldn’t have been a better mother.” Indeed, he had “two good parents, there’s no shadow of a doubt about that.” But gnawing away at this account of “good” parents are some contradictory facts that he also disclosed. His father was an alcoholic whose drinking reduced the family to poverty. And his mother was “very strong willed … [and] a jawpot. She couldn’t seem to be enjoying herself unless she was jawing at something.” All this had had serious implications for his childhood self. His mother’s “weakness,” he concluded, had “spoilt everything in the family.” When his parents began fighting late at night, he was “frightened to death … and used to dread what was going to happen.”76 Moss’s autobiography provides his reader with two very different versions of his childhood: a home with two good parents doing their best, and a home destroyed by heavy drinking and domestic conflict. And this captures a recurring difficulty of using autobiographies to try and recover the reality of working-class life. Historians are dependent upon the words of individuals who were deeply, sometimes tragically, bound up in events with serious personal consequences. This tendency of writers to provide ambiguous accounts emerges particularly clearly in cases of neglect and abandonment. Many simply did not want to analyze a childhood that had included a prolonged period of neglect or separation. Rebecca Jarrett, for example, insisted that her mother was a “good mother.” Yet her own narrative contained evidence that fatally undermined that assessment—it explained that her mother was an alcoholic and a prostitute who had started selling Rebecca for sex at the age of twelve.77 Mrs. Layton’s mother took to drinking gin when her children were small, leading to years of poor health and an early death. But like Rebecca Jarrett, the adult Mrs. Layton refused to countenance that her mother’s alcoholism may have ultimately diminished the quality of the care she had provided: she was “a good kind mother … she could not have done much better for her children than she did.”78 A similar tension is evident in those who were abandoned by their mothers. James Hawke, for example, spoke in warm tones about the mother who had left him. He concluded that she “must have had great courage,” adding that he had “always felt kindly towards my mother,” and expressing regret that he had not been able to find her as an adult. But the truth was that James’s mother had left him at such a young age that he could not really remember “anything personal” about her. And those things that he could remember do not make for easy reading. Before abandoning James, his mother “did not show much affection for [me].” His few recollections of their years together included an “unmerciful hiding” and a “sound beating with the buckle-end of a belt” that he received at her hands.79 The only other things he could remember were the ache in his heart when he realized that his mother preferred his sister to him, and the actual moment of her departure.80 Betty May interpreted her abandonment in a similar way. After a furious row between Betty and her brother, their mother unceremoniously dumped the pair of them with their father—an alcoholic who ran a brothel, from whom she had separated many years previously.81 Yet Betty May did not condemn her mother for sending her to live with her drunken father; in fact, she took much of the blame for the calamity upon herself. After all, she reasoned, she and her siblings had “needed a great deal of looking after,” and was it not her own misbehavior—she had thrown her brother’s boots into the canal—that had precipitated the separation?82 Henry Price’s mother had twice abandoned her son, first as an infant and then a second time after a brief reunion when Henry was seven. He could recollect only the second rejection, and he placed the blame for it squarely on his stepfather. His mother, he claimed, had not wanted the separation—for her the parting “was a bitter one.”83 Repeatedly writers made brave attempts to reframe the circumstances of their abandonment, so that although this vital detail is shared with the reader, no complaint is made about the mother for her role in it. William Luby, in attempting to explain how he had ended up homeless and living with a drunkard when he was just nine years old, needed to describe the home life he had previously shared with his mother: she had not been feeding him; he was treated “much like a dog or any animal.”84 Yet he never articulated any criticism of his mother for his childhood of homelessness and neglect. Others provided narrative accounts of their mother’s departure without making any attempt to explore its meaning or significance. Jim Uglow, for instance, recalled how his father had returned from a two-year trip at sea to find “a three months old baby in a pram, a pile of debts and three very neglected children.” After a few ugly scenes, his mother left with the new baby and its father: she “just disappeared from our lives.” By the same token, she just disappeared from Jim’s narrative.85 Alongside these writers who were unwilling to explore the significance of their abandonment were others who had been left at such an early age that they really knew nothing about their birth family.86 They were unable to provide any kind of account of their mothers. The ways in which writers addressed difficult childhood experiences have served to obscure the historical record. If there was one thing that autobiographers liked to write about, it was their hardworking mothers; and the prevalence of these mother figures in the autobiographical narrative has encouraged historians to emphasize the importance of domestic work, and even to interpret this as an alternative expression of love. But we should not confuse the dominance of a particular motif in written documents with the dominance of those traits in historical reality. As we have seen, the autobiographers include individuals with a very different story to tell, individuals whose mothers had suffered from addiction or who had neglected or abandoned their children for other, perhaps unexplained, reasons. And although writers were sometimes able to discuss parents who had failed to live up to part of the twentieth century’s new ideals concerning affection and discipline, they were far less willing to expose and dwell upon these more fundamental failings of care. Instead, their stories were told in hesitant, non-critical, and sometimes confusing ways. But we do not need to accept our writers’ blithe assurances that maternal addiction or abandonment did not disrupt their childhood, that despite it all they had had a “good mother.” These difficult stories may not resonate clearly through the autobiographical literature in the same way as the hard-working, industrious housewife, but we nonetheless need to find a place for them in our understanding. In order to do this, it is helpful to try to evaluate how widespread they really were. Reading across the autobiographies has illustrated that family life consisted in a material and an emotional element, and that these two elements could combine in many different ways. There were mothers who provided their children with a safe, clean, and loving home, but also mothers who performed the same household tasks without meeting their children’s emotional needs. More occasionally, mothers failed to provide either material or emotional care. So how do the various kinds of experiences described in the four hundred-odd autobiographies looked at here stack up? Was emotional and material neglect a marginal experience of the underprivileged few, and therefore something that we historians can also put to the edge of our accounts? Or was it a more common experience for the working-class child? Let us start with those writers who described happy homes, loving mothers, and contented childhoods. Around 40 percent of all the autobiographers fit into this category—35 percent of men and 40 percent of women. In most of these cases, the mothers performed their housework efficiently, but it was not this alone that caused their children to feel contented. In all of these cases, the writers drew attention to some additional maternal qualities—love, affection, kindness, patience, good humor—that had underpinned their well-being. At nearly half of the autobiographical writers, this provides some support for the standard view that family love was able to thrive despite the very different socioeconomic context within Victorian Britain. Yet with more than half of all writers failing to describe their family life in these terms, this account is also far from complete. In addition, a third of writers produced neutral accounts that are not open to further interpretation. There is a large gender difference in writing styles here: 45 percent of male writers, as against 28 percent of female writers, displayed this reticence. About half made some reference to their mother’s domestic skills—her cooking, cleaning, provisioning—but did not say anything about the emotional texture of their childhood. The other half wrote nothing about their mother at all, not even indicating how she fared as a housekeeper. The tendency has been to assume that as these writers did not indicate otherwise, they were presumably raised in loving homes, but we must resist this temptation. By the twentieth century, working-class writers had the tools to describe an emotionally content childhood—as we have just seen, some 40 percent of all writers did so. But this 30 percent did not. Silence in the autobiographies is complex, and it should certainly not be readily equated with comforting notions of familial love and well-being. This leaves a final group who articulated a far more disturbing account of neglect, addiction, excessive violence, abandonment, or simple indifference on the part of their mothers. This group is not negligible. Just over 20 percent fell into this category, 18 percent of the men and 25 percent of the women. The gender difference may be owing to the fact that female writers tended to be more critical of their mothers and more indulgent toward their fathers (while for men the reverse was true), or it may stem from that large group of men (45 percent) who wrote nothing about their families: perhaps men were more likely to use silence to conceal negative experiences. Either way, among both sexes, just under 10 percent reported serious neglect, addiction, or abandonment. The remainder (8 percent of men and 15 percent of women) wrote about mothers who were emotionally distant or physically aggressive, but who nevertheless played their expected part in providing food, clothes, and lodging. At somewhere between one in five and one in four writers, this was a fairly sizable subset of working-class children experiencing a range of problems, from emotional detachment to severe neglect. Of course, how far the life stories narrated in the autobiographies map onto lived experience is more difficult to assess. In the final analysis, it is not possible to move from the few to the many, or to know what lay behind the silence of the third of writers who did not discuss family matters. There will always be questions about who wrote an autobiography and why. Nonetheless, there is surely enough evidence to suggest that these writers reliably draw attention to a significant and neglected feature of life in the working-class family in Victorian Britain. If the stories reported here are anywhere close to lived experience, large numbers of working-class children were at risk of emotional or material neglect. Somewhere between a fifth and a quarter of all children in our sources reported receiving insufficient care from their mothers to ensure their well-being. There are no grounds for believing that the experiences described in the autobiographies were any more bleak than those of the population at large, and good reason to suspect that at least some of the writers who did not divulge any personal family detail may have been concealing negative experiences. Clearly we are dealing with a very substantial minority, sufficient to force a reassessment of comforting notions about the stability of family love through the ages. In conclusion, it is time to travel back from the specificity of working-class families in Victorian Britain to the general terrain of emotions history. How do the central tenets of emotions history stand up when we take men from the center of our studies and put women in their place? And does it matter if those women lacked power, were sometimes illiterate, and were always poor? It must be clear that the conceptual framework provided by the history of emotions has allowed us to move away from a concept of maternal love as universal and unchanging, and acknowledge the true range and complexity of familial experiences. Furthermore, exploring the space between cultural prescription and emotional reality has greatly enhanced our understanding. Reddy argued that emotional life does not sit apart from prevailing cultural values, or “emotional regimes,” but is shaped by them, and so indeed it seems from the evidence considered here. These sources indicate that working-class culture placed greater store on the provision of material care than emotional care. The absence of sustained emphasis on love and affection did not mean that love and affection never existed between mother and child, but it did permit a range of legitimate parenting styles in which these emotions were expressed only ineffectually. Equally, cultural norms allowing parents an unfettered right to strike their children had direct emotional implications. As one autobiographer wrote of his father, whose discipline he described as “rigid” and “inhumane,” “I rarely recall feeling for him the faintest glow of affection—remembrances of stern discipline were always too near for that.”87 The cultural norms for raising children in Victorian Britain were austere. We should not attempt to gloss this by redefining the performance of arduous household labor as an alternative expression of love. Instead, we should accept the central insight of recent research into the emotions: emotions are changeable and shaped by the cultural norms in which they are situated. Victorian Britain produced historically contingent cultural configurations for family life, and these in turn contributed to unique patterns of emotional experience. Yet for all the ways in which emotions history can help us to penetrate some aspects of working-class family life, there are others that it fails to elucidate. We have seen that a space existed between cultural precept and social practice that could be filled in different ways by different mothers; but we have also encountered a stubborn core of mothers whose choices sat outside all expected bounds. How do we understand mothers who simply failed to conform to Victorian expectations? Cultural configurations were never monolithic, but some certainly had a very wide purchase. There was little dissent from the belief that mothers should provide the unpaid labor required to feed and clothe their children. I have found no configurations anywhere that permitted mothers to spend the housekeeping money on drink, or to neglect or abandon their children. Yet in a significant minority of families, these unscripted behaviors occurred. Some mothers and their children were living out their family relationships in ways that were almost wholly untouched by the prevailing values. So what were the determining influences in families such as these? If culture was not effective in ensuring that these children’s core physical needs were met, what other forces were at work? We must also question the existing literature’s preoccupation with the interplay between emotions and power. The most innovative work in emotions history not only has sought to explore the relationships between culture and emotions; it has also endeavored to situate these processes within a wider political framework. As Ute Frevert has observed, “feelings were very important to social and political order. They could generate and stabilize such order, but they could also do the opposite.”88 Or as Reddy has recently restated, “Emotional experience … is always of great political significance.”89 Indeed, it has arguably been this concerted effort of emotions historians to connect cultural, literary, emotional, and political worlds that has given emotions history its keen analytical edge. But these connections have been overwhelmingly drawn from analyzing the emotional history of social elites, and of men more often than women.90 When elite adult males are de-centered from our analyses, this project to decode the politics of emotion looks far less compelling. This is not to deny that there is a political aspect to motherhood. Of course, states do sometimes take an interest in the practices of working-class mothers (one thinks, for example, of the pro-natalist policies of the twentieth century), and the family is certainly the site of small-scale power relations between men and women.91 Yet these general observations do not take us far in understanding why the Victorian working classes privileged the physical labor of motherhood over the emotional, or why mothers forged their parenting practice out of the cultural material they had to hand in the precise ways they did. To give just one example, when an exhausted George Acorn fell down a flight of steps while carrying up the family’s water, his mother did not soothe her son’s bruised body, offer him “sympathy,” or inquire “whether [he] was hurt.” She gave him a thump and berated him for breaking the family’s water bottle.92 We can agree that there is a political context for mothering, yet this does little to help us understand why Mrs. Acorn’s mothering strategy involved thumps rather than the more recognizable elements of maternal love. We can proceed only by recognizing that there was a very large difference between the male social elites who are at the heart of most emotions research and the women, poor and often illiterate, whose life stories are examined here. Elite adult males are firmly embedded within their society’s formal networks of power. Even when this is not manifested in formal political office-holding, male elites nonetheless enjoy favored access to resources and power. These conditions do not hold for poor women, but a very different context does come into view: poverty. The historical actors we have looked at here were not middle-class groups grasping for a firmer grip on power, but lower-class groups scraping along a very coarse material edge. Power was firmly out of reach; poverty and hunger were terrifyingly close. And there was something about this economic precariousness that seeped into the core of these families. In order to make sense of the fragility of some children’s relationships with their mothers, we must address the social and economic realities within which they were situated. Many of the unhappy families described here endured conditions of desperate poverty, and this had a direct impact on the emotional texture of their lives. A number of themes repeatedly appear: extreme poverty, fathers who were drunk or absent (often, of course, a cause of extreme poverty), very large families (again a potential cause of poverty), violent fathers, and bereavement within the family. These themes constitute a thread that runs throughout more than a third of the autobiographies—and although they are sometimes present in the loving families, some combination was almost always present for the writers describing unhappy homes. Single mothers faced particular challenges, working long hours to keep a roof over their family’s heads, yet still responsible for the day-to-day care of dependent children. Allan Taylor’s single mother got around the difficulty of reconciling the need to provide for her four-year-old son with the need to look after him by working at the factory and leaving him alone in their single-room tenement. She tied a string around his waist and attached it to the leg of the bed so that he could move around the room but not approach the fire. The adult Allan appeared to regard this as an example of his mother’s ingenuity—like so many, he was not one to complain. But leaving a child of this age for a twelve-hour day with nothing but short visits at mealtimes was clearly far from ideal as a parenting strategy.93 Betty May also recognized that the circumstances of her mother’s life meant that she could not care adequately for her four children. Having been abandoned by her husband, she worked twelve hours a day at a chocolate factory to keep her household running, all for the meager sum of ten shillings a week. “It would have been excusable if she had neglected us,” Betty ruefully noted.94 Arthur Harding’s mother faced a range of problems that worked against her ability to provide for her children and contributed to her descent into alcoholism. Following an accident in early adulthood when she was hit in the street by “a runaway milk cart,” she was unable to walk properly and suffered from chronic pain. Early in her marriage, she lost her first child, a boy, at the age of two years and nine months.95 And her husband, though present, was hardly an effective family breadwinner. According to Arthur, he was “too lazy to earn a living” and “just an encumbrance really.”96 In the absence of a regular male wage, Mrs. Harding took up sweated labor, working long hours to make matchboxes for a pittance. It is little wonder that her children were neglected, and that her drinking eventually spiraled out of control. Having to spend long hours away from home not only made it impossible to provide adequate care to young children, it was also exhausting and left mothers without the resources to enjoy life. Alfred Coppard, for example, thought that after his father’s death his mother had “became something of a martinet; she had no time to be kind.”97 Backbreaking laundry work and the endless round of domestic chores turned her life into a battle to be endured rather than something to enjoy. It was only as an adult that Kay Pearson understood some of the reasons why, when she was growing up, “no one in our house showed affection.”98 Then she saw the “heartache, poverty, hunger, and above all the loneliness which pervaded her [mother’s] existence” following her husband’s desertion.99 In many of these families, the prevailing cultural prescriptions of motherhood were just a hazy background that provided no more than a vague guiding light. For the most part, these mothers were not framing their mothering around external cultural codes. They just scraped by from day to day as best they could. The absence of a breadwinner created a life of poverty, overwork, and exhaustion as women vainly attempted to double as both wage-earner and caregiver. But the presence of a male head of household was no guarantee of an easier life. Alcoholism was rife in Victorian cities, and the presence of a drunk or aggressive father posed problems of a different kind. Not only did heavy drinking deplete the family finances, it also placed mothers and their children at risk of violence and abuse, and the emotional toll could be heavy. Septimus O’Reilly’s mother had fourteen children to raise, and a husband with a “terrible temper … coming home drunk on a Saturday night and beating her up—and sometimes doing the same thing mid-week, when he was sober, too.” The last assault that Septimus observed was so severe—his father “pasted into her until he’d kicked and punched all the sense out of her”—that Septimus and his siblings feared he had killed her. It all took its toll on her mothering, making her (in Septimus’s opinion) a “whiner and a nagger” who was never seen to “smile or look pleasant.”100 Alice Foley’s father’s drinking left the family mired in poverty and at risk of his unpredictable outbursts of violence. From time to time “he disappeared for weeks, leaving his whereabouts unknown, then just as suddenly he turned up penniless and unkempt.” When recovering from a boozing bout, “his temper was most vicious and unpredictable,” and Alice had a large stock of memories about the outbursts she had witnessed as a child. Worse still, thanks to him her mother ended up with seven children, “none of which she had really wanted.”101 Such tales were told many times over: seventy of the autobiographies mentioned alcoholic fathers, more than 15 percent of the total with living fathers.102 Even sober, wage-earning husbands risked adding new members to the family, with the result that mothers who were only barely coping were further taxed with unending rounds of pregnancy and birth. Faith Osgerby’s mother let all her children know that “babies were not welcomed in the family” and even told Faith about her unsuccessful efforts to abort her—she took gunpowder, “mixing it to a paste in a soapdish on her washstand every night.”103 Alfred Rowse’s mother thought that she had successfully limited her family to just two children, but five years later, Alfred made an appearance. From early childhood he was made to realize what a “regrettable accident” his birth had been, and he grew up with a “feeling of not being wanted.”104 Hannah Mitchell noticed how matters at home had deteriorated after the birth of her mother’s last two children. This, she opined, “seemed to be more than she could endure and our home became more unhappy than ever.”105 Not only were women unable to control their fertility and thus burdened with unwanted children, but this was also an era of high mortality, and the death of husbands, children, and babies could throw functioning households into complete disarray. Following the death of her husband, Joseph Williamson’s mother did a valiant job of raising her eight children, the youngest an infant just three months old, but she was also subject to occasional “fits of depression.” At these times the home became a “dead house,” and the children witnessed terrible displays of “sadness and tears.”106 Their mother had lost a husband and three infants within the space of a few short years, so her low spirits are not hard to understand. Child death appears to have been the trigger for the departure of George Severn’s mother: within the space of a few months, she lost first a daughter nearly two years of age, then “another baby girl” just a few weeks old. Mrs. Severn left the family home within weeks of the second death.107 George Meek, whose mother failed to show him “any love or affection,” lost four of her eight children.108 The endless cycle of (unwanted) pregnancy and birth placed strains on women’s physical and mental health, and the added burden of burying infants and small children completely undid some mothers’ ability to nurture those who remained in their care. What starts to emerge in these women’s stories is a host of forces that must be acknowledged in order to make sense of their emotional lives. There was clearly a material dimension to the emotions of motherhood. Extreme hardship, inadequate and overcrowded housing, and insufficient food placed enormous stress on family relationships and undoubtedly played a role in wearing down an individual’s capacity for meaningful relationships founded on love rather than more practical considerations. But there were non-material components as well. The mother of H. G. Wells did not live at the most impoverished margins of society. The family had no servants, but they did enjoy the luxury of sufficient domestic space for the parents to sleep in separate bedrooms—“their form of birth control,” opined the adult Wells—which at least permitted her to limit the size of her family.109 Yet it was still far from the comfort that the daughter of a respectable innkeeper might have hoped for in her marriage to Mr. Wells. Furthermore, Mrs. Wells’s female status rendered her dependent upon the hopelessly ineffective breadwinner her husband proved to be and left her unable to forge an alternative, more satisfactory life. Then there was the “great tragedy”—the death of her dear daughter Fanny, at just nine years old—an event that permanently fractured her relationship with all her remaining children. Her story reveals what a messy and complex web of experiences she brought to her mothering and how fundamental those experiences were for the emotional lives of those close to her. Clearly there are elements of working-class family life that are not well captured by the existing frameworks of emotions history. A literature that draws heavily on the experiences of elite social groups has convincingly established the connections between culture, emotions, and power, but this schema is of only limited use in explaining how emotions functioned in impoverished families. Working-class mothers founded their parenting decisions on prevailing cultural norms, but they also lived in a harsh world that inflected and constrained their parenting choices in significant ways. Poverty, large families, absent, violent, or alcoholic fathers, and bereavements were powerful external, non-cultural forces that also helped to shape the emotional texture of family life. Above all, these stories of poor and powerless women struggling to raise families on a purse that was always running empty are not presented as an alternative way of conceptualizing emotional life—a template that is suitable for poor people, with all the specific disadvantages they endured, that can sit alongside that which has been developed for social elites. Rather, they are there to suggest that there is a material, experiential dimension to all emotional life, a dimension that may be less relenting for those more comfortably circumstanced, but one that nonetheless cannot be discounted. And this is why it is necessary to cease the handwringing over how hard it is to “do” the emotions of the poor. We fit the socially excluded into our narratives not simply to plug gaps in historical coverage and provide parallel accounts to complement those we already have. We include lower-class voices in our historical reconstructions because the world starts to look fundamentally different when we do. Emma Griffin is Professor of Cultural History at the University of East Anglia. She is the author of Liberty’s Dawn: A People’s History of the Industrial Revolution (Yale University Press, 2013), A Short History of the British Industrial Revolution (Palgrave, 2010), Blood Sport: Hunting in Britain since 1066 (Yale University Press, 2007), and England’s Revelry: A History of Popular Sports and Pastimes, 1660–1830 (Oxford University Press, 2005). She is currently writing a monograph for Yale University Press, provisionally titled Home Economics: Money and Family in the Age of Victoria, which looks at how resources and labor were shared within the family and what this means for our understanding of Victorian prosperity. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the North American Conference for British Studies (Portland, Oregon), the University of East Anglia, the British Association for Victorian Studies (Kent), Erlangen University, Germany, and l’Université Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV), and I would like to thank the organizers and audiences for their engagement. I would also like to thank Gareth Stedman Jones, Peter Mandler, David Milne, Sarah Pearsall, and Tony Wrigley for their encouragement. Especial thanks are owing to the reviewers and editors of the AHR for their careful reading and very helpful comments and suggestions. The British Academy provided a Mid-Career Research Fellowship that enabled me to write this article. Notes 1Edward Shorter, The Making of the Modern Family (London, 1976), 168. See also Lloyd deMause, ed., The History of Childhood (New York, 1974); Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England (New York, 1977), 81, 420, 680, 70, 117; Randolph Trumbach, The Rise of the Egalitarian Family: Aristocratic Kinship and Domestic Relations in Eighteenth-Century England (New York, 1978); Elisabeth Badinter, The Myth of Motherhood: An Historical View of the Maternal Instinct (London, 1981). 2Linda A. Pollock, Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 1500 to 1900 (Cambridge, 1983), 140, 269. See also Steven Ozment, When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), who concluded: “There is little basis in fact for believing that the parents of Reformation Europe loved their children any less or mistreated them any more than modern parents do” (162). 3For thoughts on the “emotional turn,” see in particular Jan Plamper, “The History of Emotions: An Interview with William Reddy, Barbara Rosenwein, and Peter Stearns,” History and Theory 49, no. 2 (2010): 237–265; and Nicole Eustace, Eugenia Lean, Julie Livingston, Jan Plamper, William M. Reddy, and Barbara H. Rosenwein, “The Historical Study of Emotions,” AHR Conversation, American Historical Review 117, no. 5 (December 2012): 1487–1531. 4For mothers, see Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–1850 (London, 1987); M. Jeanne Peterson, Family, Love, and Work in the Lives of Victorian Gentlewomen (Bloomington Ind., 1989); Claudia Nelson and Ann Sumner Holmes, eds., Maternal Instincts: Visions of Motherhood and Sexuality in Britain, 1875–1925 (Basingstoke, 1997); Ellen Bayuk Rosenman and Claudia C. Klaver, eds., Other Mothers: Beyond the Maternal Ideal (Columbus, Ohio, 2008). For fathers, see Stephen M. Frank, Life with Father: Parenthood and Masculinity in the Nineteenth‐Century American North (Baltimore, 1998); John Tosh, A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle‐Class Home in Victorian England (New Haven, Conn., 1999); Shawn Johansen, Family Men: Middle‐Class Fatherhood in Industrializing America (London, 2001); Trev Lynn Broughton and Helen Rogers, eds., Gender and Fatherhood in the Nineteenth Century (Basingstoke, 2007). 5Tosh, A Man’s Place, 100. 6Joanne Bailey, Parenting in England, 1760–1830: Emotion, Identity, and Generation (Oxford, 2012), 27, quote from 47. See also Linda W. Rosenzweig, “‘The Anchor of My Life’: Middle-Class American Mothers and College-Educated Daughters, 1880–1920,” Journal of Social History 25, no. 1 (1991): 5–25; Claudia Nelson, Family Ties in Victorian England (Westport, Conn., 2007). 7Ellen Ross, Love and Toil: Motherhood in Outcast London, 1870–1918 (Oxford, 1993); Jane Humphries, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution (Cambridge, 2010); Carl Chinn, They Worked All Their Lives: Women of the Urban Poor in England, 1880–1939 (Manchester, 1988); Elizabeth Roberts, A Woman’s Place: An Oral History of Working-Class Women, 1890–1940 (Oxford, 1984); Anna Davin, Growing Up Poor: Home, School and Street in London, 1870–1914 (London, 1996). For fathers, see Julie-Marie Strange, Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865–1914 (Cambridge, 2015). See also Andrew Walker, “Fathers’ Pride? Fatherhood in Industrialising Communities,” in Broughton and Rogers, Gender and Fatherhood, 113–125; Helen Rogers, “First in the House: Daughters on Working-Class Fathers and Fatherhood,” ibid., 126–137; Lynn Abrams, “‘There Was Nobody Like My Daddy’: Fathers, the Family and the Marginalisation of Men in Modern Scotland,” Scottish Historical Review 78, no. 206 (1999): 219–242; Laura King, Family Men: Fatherhood and Masculinity in Britain, 1914–1960 (Oxford, 2015). 8For more on the tension between universalist and constructivist approaches to the study of the emotions, see in particular Jan Plamper, The History of Emotions: An Introduction (Oxford, 2015). 9The point is eloquently expressed in Dorothy Ko’s analysis of the Chinese practice of footbinding and her observation that through exposure to anti-footbinding sentiment, modern Western readers have learned to view the custom with disgust. Ko, Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding (Berkeley, Calif., 2005). 10For more on how mothering became “natural,” see Ann Dally, Inventing Motherhood: The Consequences of an Ideal (London, 1982). 11Plamper offers a comprehensive introduction to the current state of play in The History of Emotions, especially the Introduction and chap. 1. 12Peter N. Stearns with Carol Z. Stearns, “Emotionology: Clarifying the History of Emotions and Emotional Standards,” American Historical Review 90, no. 4 (October 1985): 813–836; Barbara H. Rosenwein, “Worrying about Emotions in History,” American Historical Review 107, no. 3 (June 2002): 821–845. 13William M. Reddy, The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions (Cambridge, 2001). 14Carol Zisowitz Stearns and Peter N. Stearns, Anger: The Struggle for Emotional Control in America’s History (Chicago, 1986); Peter N. Stearns, Jealousy: The Evolution of an Emotion in American History (New York, 1989); Barbara H. Rosenwein, ed., Anger’s Past: The Social Uses of an Emotion in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, N.Y., 1998); Martin Francis, “Tears, Tantrums, and Bared Teeth: The Emotional Economy of Three Conservative Prime Ministers, 1951–1963,” Journal of British Studies 41, no. 3 (2002): 354–387; Susan J. Matt, Keeping Up with the Joneses: Envy in American Consumer Society, 1890–1930 (Philadelphia, 2003); Joanna Bourke, Fear: A Cultural History (London, 2005); Michael Roper, “Between Manliness and Masculinity: The ‘War Generation’ and the Psychology of Fear in Britain, 1914–1950,” Journal of British Studies 44, no. 2 (2005): 343–362; Roper, “Slipping out of View: Subjectivity and Emotion in Gender History,” History Workshop Journal, no. 59 (Spring 2005): 57–72; Jan Plamper and Benjamin Lazier, eds., Fear: Across the Disciplines (Pittsburgh, 2012); Michael Laffan and Max Weiss, eds., Facing Fear: The History of an Emotion in Global Perspective (Princeton, N.J., 2012); William M. Reddy, The Making of Romantic Love: Longing and Sexuality in Europe, South Asia, and Japan, 900–1200 CE (Chicago, 2012); Nicole Eustace, 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism (Philadelphia, 2012); Claire Langhamer, The English in Love: The Intimate Story of an Emotional Revolution (Oxford, 2013); Ute Frevert, Pascal Eitler, Stephanie Olsen, Uffa Jensen, Margrit Pernau, Daniel Bruckenhaus, Magdalena Beljan, Benno Gammerl, Anja Laukotter, Bettina Hitzer, Jan Plamper, Juliane Brauer, and Joachim C. Haberlen, Learning How to Feel: Children’s Literature and Emotional Socialization, 1870–1970 (Oxford, 2014); Ute Frevert, Christian Bailey, Pascal Eitler, Benno Gammerl, Bettina Hitzer, Margrit Pernau, Monique Scheer, Anne Schmidt, and Nina Verheyen, Emotional Lexicons: Continuity and Change in the Vocabulary of Feeling, 1700–2000 (Oxford, 2014); Joanna Bourke, The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers (Oxford, 2014); Thomas Dixon, Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears (Oxford, 2015). 15Stearns and Stearns, “Emotionology,” 830. 16Susan J. Matt and Peter N. Stearns, “Introduction,” in Matt and Stearns, eds., Doing Emotions History (Champaign, Ill., 2013), 5; Susan J. Matt, “Recovering the Invisible: Methods for the Historical Study of the Emotions,” ibid., 41–53, here 50. The emphasis on articulate groups is readily evident in Peter N. Stearns and Jan Lewis, eds., An Emotional History of the United States (New York, 1998). 17Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston, 1995); Jordanna Bailkin, “Where Did the Empire Go? Archives and Decolonization in Britain,” American Historical Review 120, no. 3 (June 2015): 884–899; Durba Ghosh, “Decoding the Nameless: Gender, Subjectivity, and Historical Methodologies in Reading the Archives of Colonial India,” in Kathleen Wilson, ed., A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity and Modernity in Britain and the Empire, 1660–1840 (Cambridge, 2004), 297–316; Ghosh, “Another Set of Imperial Turns?,” American Historical Review 117, no. 3 (2012): 772–793; Ranajit Guha, “Chandra’s Death,” Subaltern Studies 5 (1986): 135–165; Mary Poovey, “The Limits of the Universal Knowledge Project: British India and the East Indiamen,” Critical Inquiry 31, no. 1 (2004): 183–202; Antoinette Burton, ed., Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History (Durham, N.C., 2005). 18John Burnett, David Vincent, and David Mayall, eds., The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated Critical Bibliography, vol. 1: 1790–1900 (New York, 1984). The bibliography lists 458 items in this timeframe, a small proportion of which have proved unsuitable for this study, generally either because the autobiography contains no family detail or because the item has been lost or proved unobtainable. This, along with other autobiographies that have come to light, provides the total of 411 life histories, and amounts to a near-comprehensive analysis of the available records. 19See in particular Julie-Marie Strange, “Fatherhood, Providing, and Attachment in Late Victorian and Edwardian Working-Class Families,” Historical Journal 55, no. 4 (2012): 1007–1027. See also Regenia Gagnier, Subjectivities: A History of Self-Representation in Britain, 1832–1920 (Oxford, 1991); Tess Cosslett, Celia Lury, and Penny Summerfield, eds., Feminism and Autobiography: Texts, Theories, Methods (London, 2000); Michael Roper, “Re-Remembering the Soldier-Hero: The Psychic and Social Construction of Memory in Personal Narratives of the Great War,” History Workshop Journal, no. 50 (Autumn 2000): 181–204. 20Carolyn Kay Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives (London, 1986). The problem is also addressed in a very different way by Joan W. Scott, “The Evidence of Experience,” Critical Inquiry 17, no. 4 (1991): 773–797. Also useful is Charlotte Linde, Life Stories: The Creation of Coherence (Oxford, 1993). 21A thoughtful analysis of the difficulty of writing the history of one working-class woman is contained in Seth Koven, The Match Girl and the Heiress (Princeton, N.J., 2015). 22The census of 1851 indicated that 45 percent of the population lived in towns of more than 5,000 souls. Our collection of autobiographies mirrors this closely: 51 percent of the cohort from 1840–1870 lived in towns over 5,000. By 1891, the census recorded that 68 percent of the population lived in towns, as did 66 percent of the cohort from 1871–1903. Urbanization figures taken from C. M. Law, “The Growth of Urban Population in England and Wales, 1801–1911,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 41 (June 1967): 125–143, Table III. A range of different demographic estimates indicate that somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of children had lost either their father or their mother before the age of sixteen. Twenty-four percent of female writers and 27 percent of male writers in our sample had lost one parent by the age of sixteen. The wide range stems from the fact that family breakdown in all its forms is difficult to detect historically. See the discussion in Humphries, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution, 64–65; Michael Anderson, Family Structure in Nineteenth Century Lancashire (Cambridge, 1971); Barry Reay, Microhistories: Demography, Society and Culture in Rural England, 1800–1930 (Cambridge, 1996). There is, unsurprisingly, a gender imbalance in the autobiographies; the majority were written by men (66 percent), while women wrote approximately a third of them. In the figures given below, I use weighted samples for each gender. 23For a consideration of some of these issues in very different contexts, see James R. Barrett, “Was the Personal Political? Reading the Autobiography of American Communism,” International Review of Social History 53, no. 3 (2008): 395–423; Ryan Hanley, “Calvinism, Proslavery and James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw,” Slavery and Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies 36, no. 2 (2015): 360–381; Annie Devenish, “Performing the Political Self: A Study of Identity Making and Self Representation in the Autobiographies of India’s First Generation of Parliamentary Women,” Women’s History Review 22, no. 2 (2013): 280–294; Igal Halfin, Terror in My Soul: Communist Autobiographies on Trial (Cambridge, Mass., 2003). 24Chinn, They Worked All Their Lives, 12–13. 25A wonderful introduction to some of these shifts is contained in Deborah Cohen, Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day (London, 2013). Also useful are Langhamer, The English in Love; Francis, “Tears, Tantrums, and Bared Teeth”; Dixon, Weeping Britannia. 26This was particularly owing to the rise of John Bowlby’s theories of attachment in the 1950s. See Cathy Urwin and Elaine Sharland, “From Bodies to Minds in Childcare Literature: Advice to Parents in Inter-war Britain,” in Roger Cooter, ed., In the Name of the Child: Health and Welfare, 1880–1940 (London, 1992), 174–199; Denise Riley, “War in the Nursery,” Feminist Review, no. 2 (1979): 82–108. 27Philip Inman, No Going Back: An Autobiography (London, 1952), 13; Frank Hodges, My Adventures as a Labour Leader (London, [1924]), 2. 28David Kirkwood, My Life of Revolt (London, 1935), 25. 29John Fraser, Sixty Years in Uniform (London, 1939), 18. 30Sir James Sexton, Sir James Sexton, Agitator: The Life of the Dockers’ M.P.—An Autobiography (London, 1936), 24. See also Chester Armstrong, Pilgrimage from Nenthead: An Autobiography (London, 1938), 32; John Eldred, I Love the Brooks (London, 1955), 20; Thomas Jordan, “Thomas Jordan, Coal-Miner,” in John Burnett, ed., Useful Toil: Autobiographies of Working People from the 1820s to the 1920s (London, 1974), 99–107; George Ratcliffe, Sixty Years of It: Being the Story of My Life and Public Career (London, [1935]), 6; Fred Kitchen, Brother to the Ox: The Autobiography of a Farm Labourer (London, 1940), 9; Sidney R. Campion, Sunlight on the Foothills (London, [1941]), 1; John McGovern, Neither Fear nor Favour (London, 1960), 11; Ben Turner, About Myself, 1863–1930 (London, 1930), 42. 31Timothy Mountjoy, The Life, Labours and Deliverances of a Forest of Dean Collier (n.p., 1887), 1; Edward G. Davis, Some Passages from My Life (Birmingham, 1898), 8; William Hollingsworth, An Autobiographical Sketch of the Life of Mr Wm. Hollingsworth (London, n.d.), 3. See also J. G., The Prisoner Set Free: The Narrative of a Convict in the Preston House of Correction (Preston, 1846), 5. 32Quotes from William Hanson, The Life of William Hanson, Written by Himself, 2nd ed. (Halifax, 1883), 4; Edward Allen Rymer, “The Martyrdom of the Mine, or 60 Years’ Struggle for Life,” ed. Robert G. Neville, History Workshop Journal, no. 1 (Spring 1976): 220–244, 229; Roger Langdon, The Life of Roger Langdon, Told by Himself (London, 1909), 18. Other writers described mothers as good housekeepers who could bake, brew, knit, and sew. See James Nye, A Small Account of My Travels through the Wilderness, ed. Vic Gammon (Brighton, [1981]), 11; Thomas Whittaker, Life’s Battles in Temperance Armour (London, 1884). 33Urwin and Sharland, “From Bodies to Minds in Childcare Literature”; Riley, “War in the Nursery”; Uffa Jensen, “Mrs. Gaskell’s Anxiety,” in Frevert et al., Learning How to Feel, 21–39. 34Plamper’s study of fear describes a similar arc of change with respect to the degree of fear that writers and soldiers were able to express. See Jan Plamper, “Fear: Soldiers and Emotion in Early Twentieth-Century Russian Military Psychology,” Slavic Review 68, no. 2 (2009): 259–283. 35Arthur Newton, Years of Change: Autobiography of a Hackney Shoemaker (London, 1974), 2. 36Elizabeth Bryson, Look Back in Wonder (Dundee, 1966), 30. 37Alfred Ireson, “Reminiscences,” in Burnett, Destiny Obscure, 70–77, here 71–72. 38Quotes from Sir Thomas J. Lipton in collaboration with W. Blackwood, Leaves from the Lipton Logs (London, 1931), 37; Whittaker, Life’s Battles in Temperance Armour, 14, 5. 39Elizabeth Oakley, “The Autobiography of Elizabeth Oakley, 1831–1900,” ed. R. Wilson, Norfolk Record Society 56 (1991): 113–150. 40Edward S. Humphries, “Childhood: An Autobiography of a Boy from 1889–1906,” Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies, Brunel University, London [hereafter Burnett Archive], 1:361, 29. 41Harry Pollitt, Serving My Time: An Apprenticeship to Politics (London, 1940), 19, 18. Thomas Bell was even more prosaic. He thought the reason for all the “scrubbing, cleaning, airing of beds and whitewashing of walls that went on” was simply to keep the family “in decent health.” Bell, Pioneering Days (London, 1941), 18. 42Arthur Frederick Goffin, “The Story of a Grey Life, Being the Autobiography of Arthur Frederick Goffin,” Burnett Archive, 1:271, n.p. 43E. P. Brand, A Fenman Remembers (Huntingdon, 1977), 13. For other busy mothers, see Howard Spring, Heaven Lies about Us (1939; repr., London, 1956), 52–56; Thomas Alfred Jackson, Solo Trumpet: Some Memories of Socialist Agitation and Propaganda (London, 1953), 39. 44George Acorn [pseud.], One of the Multitude (London, 1911), 2–4. 45Ibid., 281. See also George Meek, George Meek, Bath-Chair Man, by Himself (London, 1910), 21, 40, 42, 45–46. 46Kathleen Woodward, Jipping Street (1928; repr., London, 1983), 18–19. 47Amy Grace Rose, volume of reminiscences MS (1945), Cambridge Record Office, Cambridge, P137/28/3, 1–2. 48Faith Dorothy Osgerby, “My Memoirs,” in Burnett, Destiny Obscure, 77–84, here 82, 79. Lack of affection was also noted in M. Abbley, “Soul Adrift—Being the Memoirs of a Queer Child,” Burnett Archive, uncatalogued; Nora Hampton, “Memories of Baptist End, Netherington, Dudley, 1895–1918,” ibid., 3:68; Amy Langley, untitled, ibid., 2:466; Bessie Wallis, “Yesterday,” ibid., 2:794; Daisy Noakes, The Town Beehive: A Young Girl’s Lot, Brighton, 1910–1934, 2nd ed. (Brighton, 1980), 9. 49Hannah Mitchell, The Hard Way Up: The Autobiography of Hannah Mitchell, Suffragette and Rebel, ed. Geoffrey Mitchell (London, 1968), 39, 57. 50Ibid., 39, 40. 51Ibid., 62. 52F. H. Spencer, An Inspector’s Testament (London, 1938), 15, 22, 23, 22. See also Sir Edward Brown, Memories at Eventide (Burnley, 1934), 2–3. 53Elizabeth Flint, Hot Bread and Chips (London, 1963), 24, 17. See also Kate Taylor, “Memoir,” in Burnett, Destiny Obscure, 301–309, here 305. 54Humphries, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution, 143. See also Ellen Ross, Love and Toil, 149–151, who asserts that most of the corporal punishment administered within families fitted within community norms, and contrasts it with the unacceptable violence associated with abuse. 55Sexton, Sir James Sexton, Agitator, 24–25. 56Wil Jon Edwards, From the Valley I Came (London, 1956), 13, 26, 27–28. 57Humphries, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution, 143. 58For more on this shift in attitudes, see Deborah Thom, “‘Beating Children Is Wrong’: Domestic Life, Psychological Thinking and the Permissive Turn,” in Lucy Delap, Ben Griffin, and Abigail Wills, eds., The Politics of Domestic Authority in Britain since 1800 (Basingstoke, 2009), 261–283. 59Acorn, One of the Multitude, 62, 42, 14, 12, 63. 60Woodward, Jipping Street, 19. 61Osgerby, “My Memoirs,” 79. 62Jack Lawson (John James), A Man’s Life (London, 1932), 23. 63Kay Garrett, untitled, Burnett Archive, 2:305, 1; see also May Jones, untitled, ibid., 1:401, 4. Kathleen Dayus, Her People (London, 1982), 6. 64Mitchell, The Hard Way Up, 55, 62. 65Ibid., 57. See also Dayus, Her People, 6. George L. Reakes’s mother’s cane was almost the only thing he remembered about her; Reakes, Man of the Mersey (London, 1956), 10. 66Zoe Fairhurst, “Our Zoe of Gilling West: Her Life Story,” Crosby Library, Waterloo, UK, 920.7 FAI, 2–3. See also Meek, George Meek, Bath-Chair Man, 41; Acorn, One of the Multitude, especially 42. The reverse was also true: contented children often remarked upon the fact that their mothers had not sought to enforce obedience through the use of physical force. See, for example, Bryson, Look Back in Wonder, 15. 67Humphries, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution, 138, 239; Ross, Love and Toil, 168; Chinn, They Worked All Their Lives, 49. Compare, however, Steedman’s very different interpretation of Woodward’s complex text; Landscape for a Good Woman, 91–92. 68Elizabeth Coleman, The Tangled Garden: Memories of My Girlhood (London, 1988), 16. 69For more on the shift away from secrecy in the twentieth century, see in particular Cohen, Family Secrets. 70Mrs. Wrigley, “A Plate-Layer’s Wife,” in Margaret Llewelyn Davies, ed., Life as We Have Known It (1931; repr., London, 1990), 56–66, here 57. Also interesting are those writers who unfavorably contrasted parents with grandparents: A. V. Christie, Brass Tacks and a Fiddle (Kilmarnock, 1943), 20; I Walked by Night: Being the Life and History of the King of the Norfolk Poachers, Written by Himself, ed. Lilias Rider Haggard (London, 1935). 71Flora Thompson, Lark Rise to Candleford (1939; repr., London, 1973); Thompson, Heatherley (Headley Down, Hampshire, 1998), 83. See also Barbara English, “Lark Rise and Juniper Hill: A Victorian Community in Literature and in History,” Victorian Studies 29, no. 1 (1985): 7–34. 72Kathleen Hilton-Foord, “The Survivor: The Memoirs of a Little Dover Girl,” Burnett Archive, 2:398, 1–3; Hilton-Foord, “Grannie’s Girl,” ibid., 2:398, n.p. 73Frank T. Bullen, Recollections: The Reminiscences of the Busy Life of One Who Has Played the Varied Parts of Sailor, Author and Lecturer (London, 1915), 29. 74H. J. Harris, “Autobiographical Letters, 1978–1984,” Burnett Archive, 2:363, letter dated May 4, 1978. 75Indeed, his account is so elliptical that I am unable to establish exactly what had caused the breakup of his family when he was three years old. Ibid., letter dated May 3, 1978, 2–3. 76Les Moss, Live and Learn: A Life and Struggle for Progress (Brighton, 1979), 6–7. 77Rebecca Jarrett, “Rebecca Jarrett: Written by Her Own Self,” Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, William Booth College, RJ/2/2, 3. 78Mrs. Layton, “Memories of Seventy Years,” in Davies, Life as We Have Known It, 1–55, here 8. For alcoholic mothers, see also Catherine Cookson, Our Kate: An Autobiographical Memoir (London, 1969); [Arthur Harding], East End Underworld: Chapters in the Life of Arthur Harding, ed. Raphael Samuel (London, 1981); Kay Garrett, untitled, Burnett Archive, 2:305, 1; Annie Lord, “My Life,” ibid., 2:486; Pat O’Mara, The Autobiography of a Liverpool Slummy (1934; repr., Liverpool, 2009); Sam Shaw, Guttersnipe (London, [1946]); Jane Walsh, Not Like This (London, 1953). The idea of the “good mother” is also problematized in Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman, 1, 16–17. 79Major James Hawke, From Private to Major (London, 1938), 13, 14. 80Ibid., 14. 81Betty May, Tiger-Woman: My Story (London, 1929), 19. 82Ibid., 14, 17–18. 83Henry Edward Price, “My Diary,” Islington Local History Centre, Finsbury Library, London, 1032 S/HEP, 5. In fact, by the time the illegitimate Henry returned to his mother at the age of seven, she had married and given birth to another son, whom she had also named Henry. Her naming choice suggests that she had not anticipated taking her firstborn Henry back into her home. See also Hilton-Foord, “The Survivor,” 1, 5, and “Grannie’s Girl,” n.p. 84William Luby, “William Luby, Sweet-Boiler,” in Burnett, Useful Toil, 89–99, here 96. 85Jim Uglow, Sailorman: A Barge-Master’s Story (London, 1975), 16. 86See, for instance, Francis Anthony, A Man’s a Man (London, 1932); John Gray, Gin and Bitters (London, [1938]); Sir Henry Morton Stanley, The Autobiography of Sir Henry Morton Stanley, G.C.B., ed. Dorothy Stanley (Boston, 1909); Edward Balne, “Autobiography of an Ex-Workhouse and Poor Law School Boy,” Burnett Archive, 1:37; Edward Brown, untitled, ibid., 1:93. 87Michael Home, Autumn Fields (London, 1946), 8, 10. 88Ute Frevert, “Emotional Knowledge: Modern Developments,” in Frevert et al., Emotional Lexicons, 260–273, here 271. 89William M. Reddy, “Emotional Turn? Feelings in Russian History and Culture: Comment,” Slavic Review 68, no. 2 (2009): 329–334, here 330. 90In addition to Reddy, “Emotional Turn?,” see Stephen D. White, “The Politics of Anger,” in Rosenwein, Anger’s Past, 127–152; Eustace, 1812; Barbara H. Rosenwein, “Thinking Historically about Medieval Emotions,” History Compass 8, no. 8 (2010): 828–842; Margrit Pernau et al., Civilizing Emotions: Concepts in Nineteenth Century Asia and Europe (Oxford, 2015); Frevert et al., Emotional Lexicons. 91See Seth Koven and Sonya Michel, “Womanly Duties: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States in France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States, 1880–1920,” American Historical Review 95, no. 4 (October 1990): 1076–1108. 92Acorn, One of the Multitude, 40–43, quotes from 42. 93Allan K. Taylor, From a Glasgow Slum to Fleet Street (London, [1949]), 1–2. 94May, Tiger-Woman, 14. 95[Harding], East End Underworld, 22, 24–25, 28–29, 65, quote from 21. 96Ibid., 69, 65. 97A. E. Coppard, It’s Me, O Lord! An Abstract and Brief Chronicle of Some of the Life with Some of the Opinions of A. E. Coppard (London, 1957), 30. 98Kay Pearson, Life in Hull: From Then till Now (Hull, 1980), 68. 99Ibid., 72. See also Jarrett, “Rebecca Jarrett,” 3; Jack Lanigan, “Incidents in the Life of a Citizen,” in Burnett, Destiny Obscure, 85–90. 100Septimus O’Reilly, The Tiger of the Legion: Being the Life Story of “Tiger” O’Reilly as Told to William J. Elliott (London, [1936]), 26. 101Alice Foley, A Bolton Childhood (Manchester, 1973), 9. 102For a few other examples, see Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography (London, 1964); Lanigan, “Incidents in the Life of a Citizen,”; Jack Martin, Ups and Downs: The Life Story of a Working Man (Bolton, 1973); Shaw, Guttersnipe; Walsh, Not Like This; Emlyn Williams, George: An Early Autobiography (London, 1961). 103Osgerby, “My Memoirs,” 79. See also John Langley, Always a Layman (Brighton, 1976), 14. 104A. L. Rowse, A Cornish Childhood: Autobiography of a Cornishman, 6th ed. (London, 1956), 80, 86. See also Brand, A Fenman Remembers, 13. 105Mitchell, The Hard Way Up, 40. 106Joseph Williamson, Father Joe: The Autobiography of Joseph Williamson of Poplar and Stepney (London, 1963), 19. 107J. Millott Severn, The Life Story and Experiences of a Phrenologist (Brighton, 1929), 5–6. 108Meek, George Meek, Bath-Chair Man, 21. The legacy of a child’s death is also evident in the autobiography of the writer H. G. Wells. Herbert George Wells, Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (since 1866) (London, 1934). See also Acorn, One of the Multitude; [Harding], East End Underworld. 109Wells, Experiment in Autobiography, 24. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical Association. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail journals.permissions@oup.com. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The American Historical Review Oxford University Press

The Emotions of Motherhood: Love, Culture, and Poverty in Victorian Britain

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Abstract

Abstract Is maternal love biologically determined and independent of class and culture, or is it fluid and changeable, shaped by the social context within which individuals find themselves? Recent work on the history of emotions has encouraged us to regard not simply the outward cultural configurations of human emotion as mutable and changeable, but also the actual emotions themselves. Yet so deeply rooted is the Western belief that mothers’ love for their children is natural and innate that scholars have struggled to envisage parental love in the past as differing significantly from that in the present. Looking at working-class mothers in Victorian Britain, this article argues that the very different norms and values surrounding motherhood in this historical context did indeed create a different range of emotional experiences. It also, however, seeks to deepen our understanding of why emotions take the precise forms they do. By shifting focus away from the social elites who form the mainstay of most emotions history, this article offers new insights into the ways in which societies construct and experience their emotional norms. autobiography, emotions, gender, life-writing, motherhood Are the emotions that tie family members together fixed in form and ahistorical in nature? Or are they fluid and changeable, contingent upon the context and culture within which individuals are placed? When historians began to study the family in the 1970s, the formal parent-child relationships they observed in the nineteenth century and earlier appeared to suggest that mothers felt little love for their offspring, and led some to suggest that maternal love was not a timeless, biological instinct, but a creation of the modern Western world—as Edward Shorter boldly put it, “good mothering is an invention of modernisation.”1 Yet no sooner had these dark thoughts been uttered than scholars busied themselves with denying their possible truth. Linda Pollock, for example, retorted that “the thesis of a dramatic transformation in the capacity for experiencing emotion is a myth. There is no such transformation.” “Parental care,” she concluded, “would appear to have altered little from the 16th century to date.”2 Although this statement was made more than thirty years ago, the emphasis on the transhistorical and constant nature of parental love can be found throughout the recent literature. Whether looking at elite or non-elite groups, at mothers or fathers, at Europe or the United States, historians advance much the same set of claims about the essentially unchanging nature of the love parents feel for their children. Indeed, even the discipline’s recent “emotional turn,” with its focus upon the mutability of emotions, has done little to shake family historians’ faith in the constancy of parental love over time.3 Of course, these arguments are constructed in different ways as historians attend to specific times, places, and social constituencies. Those looking at middle- and upper-class families have devoted considerable attention to uncovering the multiple, fragmentary, and sometimes contradictory conceptions of fatherhood and motherhood available to elite parents.4 Yet the ways in which these complex ideals map onto emotional experiences of family life have received far less attention. This—so far as it is considered at all—is regarded as something fixed. As one scholar reminds us, “fathers then, as now, were bound to their children by powerful and primitive emotions.”5 Another observes that while cultural ideals changed, “[t]he innate emotions of parenthood did not.”6 Those looking at non-elite families have by necessity developed their arguments along different lines. Even the most superficial survey of the available sources reveals that parents tended to be less overtly affectionate and demonstrative toward their children than is customary today. But this behavioral difference is not interrogated for what it may say about how human emotions can change over time. Instead it is presumed to illustrate how the cultural codes governing how love can be expressed have changed. It is suggested that working-class parents did not use intimacy and affection to raise their children in ways that are immediately recognizable as “love” to modern observers; they demonstrated their love instead in the labor required to house, feed, and clothe dependent family members.7 Thus in contrast to the first generation of family historians, who read the evidence of vastly different parenting practices as evidence of different emotional experiences, most work on the Western family published since the late 1990s emphasizes the continuity of certain core inner emotions despite these changing external forms. When set against the burgeoning literature on the history of the emotions, however, there is something troubling about the working assumption that the emotional ties that bind family members together are ever fixed in form.8 Admittedly, the separation of mutable outward cultural forms from a more stable set of inner emotions has served a strategically useful function in allowing scholars to discuss unfamiliar parenting styles and values. It was obviously unsatisfactory to upbraid historical constituencies for their failure to conform to modern ideals of intense emotional bonds within the nuclear family, and discriminating between changing cultural forms and a static emotional core has permitted historians to discuss historical difference without passing moral judgment. In reality, however, recent assessments still embody normative judgments about the correct nature of emotional life, both past and present. After all, as emotions historians have pointed out, all scholars bring their own experience to the material they study.9 Historians of the family bring to bear a lifetime’s personal immersion in family life and years of exposure to prevailing ideas about the place of women in the domestic and familial sphere. Indeed, the oft-repeated claim in the historical literature that love forms the core of mother-child relationships bears a striking resemblance to ideas about the primacy of love in mother-child relationships that have circulated in the Anglophone world in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.10 Emotions history invites us to step outside the norms of our own culture and offers a genuinely different way of understanding historical societies in all their specificity. As the history of emotions continues its rapid development as a distinct field of study, its central tenets become more difficult to summarize.11 Nonetheless, important contributions by Peter Stearns, Barbara Rosenwein, and others have done enough to force a fundamental rethink of the assumption that emotions are unchanging.12 Particularly pertinent to this study of the emotional underpinnings of family life is William Reddy’s concept of “emotional regimes,” laid out most fully in his The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions.13 In this work, Reddy posits a direct relationship between a society’s cultural configurations for emotional expression and the actual emotions experienced. Not only are both mutable, he suggests, but a society’s emotional norms and expectations—its “emotional regime”—have tangible emotional consequences for those who live within it. This provides a powerful new way of thinking about family life. Clearly, if Reddy is correct that cultural norms and expectations play a role in shaping one’s inner emotional experiences, then the claim that the ideas and language surrounding family life changed while inner emotions did not must be rejected. In Reddy’s formulation, different emotional regimes create, ipso facto, different emotional experiences, and the historian’s task therefore becomes to explore how. Since Reddy set out this template in 2001, the field has burgeoned. We now have numerous studies of discrete emotions, and while some of this literature confines itself to tracking changing cultural scripts in essentially familiar ways, emotions history at its most innovative seeks to probe the territory between cultural scripts and emotional life, between expression and experience.14 Indeed, it is arguably this marriage of poststructuralist insights concerning the free-floating nature of discursive tropes with the much older social historian’s concern to understand the lived experience of historical actors that has made recent research in emotions history such a distinctive and fertile form of inquiry. Yet despite the great growth in emotions history in recent years, there remain some large gaps. When Peter and Carol Stearns first put the history of the emotions on the historical map in 1985, they highlighted the difficulty of accessing the emotions of the lower classes, adding that this difficulty provided no grounds “for neglect of a basic ingredient of human history.”15 Arguably, however, the Stearnses’ intervention has been less effective in this regard than in any other. Almost all of the recent work that explicitly engages with the emotions takes middle- or upper-class subjects as its focus. As Susan Matt and Peter Stearns soberly conclude in their recent survey of the field, the emotional history of articulate groups “is clearly easier to do” than work on groups “that less actively consume any formal literature.” We thus know “far more … about the emotional experiences of the upper and middle classes than about the working classes and the impoverished.”16 It is, of course, hardly necessary to point out that the poor have always had emotions, too, and that uncovering them constitutes a worthwhile historical project. We need to challenge the tenets of a fast-growing historical specialism that has yet to consider the consequences of excluding large parts of the population. As a generation of postcolonial historians have forced us to recognize, when we attempt to reconstruct past worlds through the eyes, words, and deeds of powerful white men, our reconstructions reproduce the politics and perspectives of those white men in subtle ways.17 Different historical actors have differential access to resources, education, and power, and thus uneven means to create an archive. Furthermore, the project of interrogating the silent voices of subordinate subjects has not simply added to our understanding of imperialism; it has upended earlier narratives that were founded on their exclusion. Differential access to archive creation is not a problem only for the global historian. The same problems exist for European societies, too, with their complex social and gender hierarchies and unequal distributions of goods and power. Thus it is important to look at a non-elite constituency not simply to provide a parallel body of emotions history for the poor and female—to mark out a new and separate silo in which we can carry on business as usual, sketching out emotional trajectories for an as yet unstudied social constituency—but also so that we can think more deeply about how emotions are fashioned, experienced, and expressed, and about how one’s place in the social order feeds into this process. The love between a mother and her child is one of the most elemental of human emotional experiences. But how has that connection been expressed across time and culture? This narrative is located in a specific time and place—Victorian Britain—but its focus on working-class experiences opens to a much more universal set of themes concerning how a lack of the basic necessities impacts upon human emotions. What happens to emotional life when mothers do not enjoy access to adequate food, decent housing, healthcare, or an effective means to limit their family size? Hunger, tiredness, cold, physical discomfort, lack of privacy, and lack of peace and quiet do not constitute part of a society’s cultural codes or emotional regime; nor are they the same as the emotions themselves. But it is, at the very least, reasonable to ask whether such things affect the ability of a woman to mother her children. How, for example, does a family maintain loving ties when its members are forced to compete to fulfill their basic human needs for food, space, and rest? How does a mother experience love when she is hungry and those she is supposed to love have a claim on her own limited rations? Unpacking the emotional experience of life within the working-class family opens up a raft of questions about the interplay of the cultural and the emotional and invites a reconsideration of our subdiscipline’s conceptual frameworks. The critical bibliography of British working-class autobiography compiled by John Burnett in the 1980s provides a rich resource for life-writing by those born into impoverished working-class families in Britain between 1840 and 1903, enabling us to take a close look at childhoods down to the outbreak of World War I.18 Autobiography has long formed the mainstay of historical inquiry into family life, but its use is of course not without problems.19 Carolyn Steedman’s superb and self-aware account of her childhood in postwar London reveals the storytelling involved in chronicling one's own life and highlights the difficulty of bridging the gap between written accounts of childhood and earlier lived experiences.20 It is a problem that many scholars have addressed, and one that we will also have to consider in due course.21 A rather different concern, however, is the extent to which we can generalize from such sources at all. Writers inevitably experienced family life in highly unique ways, so many different kinds of mothers are described in the sources. With so many competing voices, how are we to decide what was “normal” and what was atypical? As a first step, this analysis has worked comprehensively through all surviving autobiographies—more than four hundred in all. In addition, we must ask: Do those records capture the full range of working-class society, including those from the most impoverished and marginal quarters? It is well known that autobiographers tend to have achieved something of note by the time they wrote their autobiographies. Did these future achievements correlate with a set of family characteristics that all had shared earlier in life? In fact, so far as it is possible to measure “typical” working-class family characteristics, our sample of autobiographies corresponds well with what we know about Victorian Britain. In terms of geographical origins, family size, and family structure, those who wrote autobiographies closely mirror the wider public.22 Thus, while some (though by no means all) of the autobiographers went on to achieve something of sufficient note to justify the writing of an autobiography, there is nothing that stands out as unusual about their families of origin. Of course, there is more to interpreting the stories contained in the autobiographies than simply demonstrating that the authors’ families of origin were representative of working-class families more broadly. Autobiographical accounts involve the reinterpretation of earlier lived events at many years’ remove, the rendering of complex lived experiences into simple, intelligible narratives, acceptable to surviving family members, to the book-buying public, or to other audiences.23 Inevitably, finished works contain silences, absences, and contradictions, all of which will need to be addressed. Yet for all their complexity, these slippery sources offer the best, indeed the only, way of penetrating the private recesses of the working-class family. What did working-class culture in Victorian Britain expect of mothers? How were mothers supposed to behave? Such apparently simple questions are far from straightforward when we look at those who left little in the way of written records. Conduct books, novels, sermons, and the like form the material to which historians usually turn in order to reconstruct cultural values, but how does one proceed with subjects who have signally failed to bequeath an archive of this nature? In the absence of such records, some attempts have been made to use ballads and songs to reconstruct the mental horizons of the working classes, but such approaches are beset by the fact that scholars are generally unable to establish the authorship of printed versions of songs and ballads.24 We are therefore forced back to the autobiographical records as the only place where working-class people themselves routinely articulated their family values. But in order to use autobiographies to reconstruct Victorian cultural values, we must appreciate that these sources are not, for the most part, from the Victorian period at all. A handful of individuals born early in Queen Victoria’s reign wrote their autobiographies during its twilight years, but the majority were born after 1850 and did not get around to writing their life stories until the twentieth century—a time of rising affluence and rapidly changing cultural values.25 Autobiographers born at the end of our period typically wrote their life stories in the 1960s, the 1970s, even occasionally the 1980s, by which point ideas about motherhood had changed vastly from those that prevailed at the time the writer was born and raised.26 As a result, autobiographical writing does not capture Victorian values in a straightforward fashion. Instead, it captures the writer’s reevaluation of his or her early years in the light of a new cultural climate. This does not prevent the use of twentieth-century sources to reconstruct earlier Victorian values, but it does require us to explore the writing strategies that authors used to negotiate the difference between contemporary norms and their own earlier experiences. It is immediately clear that there was considerable shared terrain among a large number of writers concerning what constituted a good Victorian mother.27 Good mothers, they agreed, worked tirelessly to ensure a clean, well-ordered home. Their duties involved the wise spending of a husband’s meager wage, and the endless rounds of cleaning, cooking, and sewing necessary for the physical well-being of the family. Time and again, autobiographers indicated how their mother measured up to this ideal. “She counted and took care of the scanty wages. She planned out the week’s needs.”28 She “scrupulously remov[ed] every speck of dirt or dust from the uneven stone floor.”29 She was “up with the lark in the summer, and long before daylight in winter, preparing the meagre morning meal of oatmeal and skimmed milk.”30 A mother’s role was not primarily to earn the wherewithal to keep the family. It was to transform the husband’s wages into a tolerably comfortable domestic existence for each and every member of the family. The regularity and ease with which writers recorded their mothers’ household labor points to the strong association between motherhood and housekeeping in working-class culture. Indeed, housekeeping was not only the dominant motif among twentieth-century autobiographers; it was also the vernacular used by Victorian autobiographers (who were for the most part describing childhoods before the Victorian period). It is remarkable that working-class autobiographers writing prior to the twentieth century provided scarcely any information about their mothers, and certainly very little of a personal nature. Mothers were described (if at all) in a handful of words: she was a “good help-mete,” a “thoughtful, thrifty mother,” a “most persevering, industrious woman.”31 Any more extended discussion invariably turned exclusively upon the work she did, whether paid or unpaid, on her family’s behalf. Mothers were remembered for their “toiling life,” for “toiling hard to keep the home together,” or for their “hard struggle” in the home.32 Indeed, so far as we can decipher from autobiographies written during the Victorian period, motherhood was at that time conceived and described almost wholly in terms of the physical rather than emotional labor that it involved. Clearly, though, by the twentieth century, writers no longer wanted to limit their discussion of childhood to the efficiency with which their mother had performed the labor of the home. Conceptions of motherhood in the nineteenth century had started to lay a heavy emphasis upon a mother’s supposed natural capacity for love and nurture, and these ideas became widely disseminated in the twentieth.33 This provided a new framework within which working-class autobiographers could reevaluate their own early years and opened up a space for discussion of the more intimate elements of family life.34 Certainly, many of the autobiographical writers had experienced something close to the warm, nurturing mother-child bond now emphasized by psychologists, though they often lacked clear and consistent language with which to discuss it. A few writers helpfully used that familiar word “love.” Arthur Newton, for example, recalled being “loved and cared for in a simple sort of way” by parents who “were rich in love and affection.”35 But most writers invested “love” with their own, often rather idiosyncratic set of meanings, and many bypassed the concept altogether. After all, as Elizabeth Bryson put it, families like hers were “shy of the word ‘love.’”36 Instead, “love” was just one of several ways in which writers tried to indicate well-being within the family. Autobiographers wrote about “affection” rather than “love,” and drew attention to particular maternal qualities, such as gentleness, warmth, kindness, good humor, and sympathy.37 They recalled such things as the “smile on her face,” or her “large heart” and “warm temperament.”38 Other writers highlighted specific acts of kindness and care.39 These working-class writers had been raised in a context without a neatly formulated cultural convention validating the place of love in mother-child relationships, and this left them without a simple, ready-made language. But the absence of clearly articulated concepts did not preclude the existence of strong mother-child bonds. Clearly many mothers had found their own ways of creating a significant emotional connection with their children. Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Motherhood was increasingly idealized in Victorian society. This image from a popular illustrated newspaper depicts a loving mother firmly situated within her domestic setting. Charlotte J. Weeks, “Evening,” The Graphic, December 30, 1882. Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Motherhood was increasingly idealized in Victorian society. This image from a popular illustrated newspaper depicts a loving mother firmly situated within her domestic setting. Charlotte J. Weeks, “Evening,” The Graphic, December 30, 1882. At the same time, however, we must not get too carried away by the ability of poor women to transcend their culture’s restricted vision of motherhood. This, after all, might be expected to some degree. Emotional norms do not have to be universally obeyed, and individuals will always construct their emotional lives from prevailing cultural norms in distinct and unique ways. Furthermore, the alternative possibility must also be considered: cultural codes underscoring the importance of material rather than emotional care may not have prevented the development of loving familial relationships, but did they play any role in limiting or restricting the emotional bonds between mothers and their children? The evidence on this score is rather more depressing, for if we look closely at the family lives described in the autobiographies, it appears that the focus on housekeeping was not an effective or reliable mechanism for sustaining emotional well-being. In fact, cultural configurations of motherhood that emphasized material rather than emotional care helped to foster mothering styles in which maternal love was difficult for children to discern. Admittedly, performing the expected rites of motherhood could elicit a positive emotional response. A bowl of hot, tasty food or an item of hand-stitched clothing could protect a vulnerable young child immersed in a world of deprivation from the cold, harsh elements, and have significance beyond the purely material. As Edward Humphries recalled, his mother’s ability to keep the family well fed even when times were hard “brought comfort to us all.”40 Yet in more than four hundred autobiographies, connections between housekeeping and well-being were only occasionally drawn, and writers were far more likely to comment upon the disconnect between the two. Authors were capable of writing about their mothers’ devotion to housework in remarkably neutral tones. Harry Pollitt remembered all “[t]hat cleaning of the front step and flags! That scrubbing down of the back-yard! Those steel fenders and fire-irons! Those brass candlesticks that had to be polished till you could see your face in them!” Yet he thought that the struggle to keep everything clean was not an act of love, but a subterfuge so that “people thought you were better off than you ever dared hope to be.”41 Arthur Goffin declared that his mother was “never really happy unless she was working in one capacity or another,” though he also noted that the unending work made her difficult and irritable.42 Edward Brand’s mother catered for her family to the point of obsession. She “was always busy cooking, baking bread, jam making, pickling, wine making and ham curing.” She was, in fact, “an expert wine maker.” But she was also “quiet and reserved [and] never seemed to have time to play and read to us.” She was “very strict,” and “we never got the love from her that we did from Father who would take us on his knee and sing all the old songs to us.”43 Many autobiographers recognized their mother’s struggle to manage the household’s scant resources: to put meals on the table, clothes on everyone’s backs, and boots on everyone’s feet. It was, they recognized, hard, useful, and backbreaking work. At the same time, however, this contribution was not usually read as an act of love in the eyes of children. Furthermore, as the twentieth century progressed and working-class writers became more comfortable with the thought that love and intimacy held a central place in mother-child relationships, authors became more willing to explore the space between modern values and their own earlier experiences. Take, for instance, George Acorn, who was raised in desperate poverty in a one-room hovel with a hard-drinking and often unemployed father and a mother who was “incapable” of affection. As a child, he felt unloved and unsafe. The warring between his parents was continuous, with regular nighttime rows that had the children cowering in their beds and the neighbors racing upstairs to separate the combatants.44 When she was not fighting with her husband, Mrs. Acorn battled against her eldest son, using taunts and physical violence to extract compliance. As an adult, George could recognize that his mother, living with a precarious breadwinner and too many children (one of whom died before the age of two), faced multiple challenges. “Her struggles to supply our physical needs, especially during my father’s enforced absence, were quite, quite heroic.” Yet her heroic toil could not fill the void created by her years of harsh words and rough treatment. “If only to her strength of purpose had been added some spiritual sympathy, some ray of tender love, I know I should have responded with generous affection—my mother would have been so much to me.”45 There were others who shared similar stories about mothers who were effective housewives yet were at best emotionally distant, at worst outright hostile. Kathleen Woodward mused that she had been bound to her mother by “ties which existed without love or affection.” Her mother “sweated and laboured for her children, equally without stint or thought, but was utterly oblivious to any need we might cherish for sympathy in our little sorrows, support in our strivings. She simply was not aware of anything beyond the needs of our bodies.”46 It was the absence of affection that Amy Grace Rose also remembered the best. As a child, she “always used to feel that nobody loved me.” Her mother was a “severe kind of woman … not kind and gentle”; it was unthinkable to “put [your] arms around her and kiss her.”47 Faith Osgerby’s mother was a competent housewife who worked hard for her husband and seven children, one of whom was unable to walk. But these competencies did not compensate, in Faith’s eyes, for a childhood that “was really ruled by FEAR” and was devoid of affection—“I can never remember in all my life being cuddled or kissed or ‘loved’ as we love our babies today.”48 Hannah Mitchell also made a clear distinction between good housekeeping and good mothering. With respect to the former, her mother could not be faulted—she was a well-dressed housewife, with “everything in order”; “[w]ork and cleanliness were her gods.”49 “But her temper was so uncertain that we lived in constant fear of an outbreak.” Her “violent passions,” triggered by “the merest trifles,” could last for days and sometimes ended with the children spending the night without food out in the barn.50 Clean or not, it was not, Hannah concluded, “a good atmosphere to grow up in.”51 Not only was efficient housekeeping no guarantee of a child’s emotional well-being, but the reverse was also emphatically true: relationships could thrive even without much skill in the housekeeping department. Frederick Spencer admitted that his mother was “no Martha.” She had “no special love for housework,” was “[u]ntidy [and] unmethodical,” and had very little interest in “the eternal round of cooking, scrubbing, cleaning, mending.” But she was “sweet” and had a “good heart.” In her son’s eyes, she made “a good home … in non-material things.”52 Elizabeth Flint made the rare confession that although “washday was on Monday really … Mum did not always bother.” She sometimes left it for another week, and even after she did the wash, “the clothes never looked much better.” But it did not really matter, because Elizabeth’s mother nonetheless created a home full of “love and true kindliness.”53 Good housekeeping was the dominant cultural convention defining the working-class mother. It was the motif to which writers returned over and over again, and it was not, as many of the writers make clear, commensurate with the love that children craved. But it was not the only norm to inflect family life. Physical chastisement was legal and socially acceptable in Victorian Britain, and widely used in schools, workplaces, homes, and families. Of course, as most family historians remain wedded to a model of unchanging emotional experiences, the reality of physical punishment is not allowed to disrupt the narrative of the loving working-class family. Jane Humphries, for example, suggests that “mothers’ chastisement was [a] mundane” experience, because women, lacking the strength and size of their husbands, were “less able to hurt.”54 It is certainly true that some writers did recall the punishments of their childhood as a mundane experience. One described how a stick that was used to stir dirty clothes was applied to “our backs when we tried her patience beyond endurance.”55 A writer from Wales recounted the absurdity of going into the woods to find the birch branch (“jinni fetw”) that would be used on his own back.56 Corporal punishment is everywhere in the autobiographies. It was socially and culturally acceptable, and some writers internalized these norms. As Humphries says, they simply “made light of it.”57 But to dismiss the significance of physical punishment because it was doled out by women fails to do justice to the meaning of those acts. Women may have been smaller than men, but when they used sticks and belts to punish, they had the capacity to both shame and injure their children, and posed a serious threat to their emotional well-being. As attitudes toward child discipline became more lenient in the twentieth century, autobiographical writers became ever more willing to reconsider a childhood dominated by violence, a childhood that was manifestly different from that enjoyed by children at the time of writing.58 Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was considerable overlap between writers who complained of emotionally distant mothers and those who reported high levels of violence. George Acorn, Kathleen Woodward, and Faith Osgerby all had a large stock of such memories. Acorn remembered countless thrashings, a “good hiding,” “savage punishment,” and objects of various kinds being hurled in his direction—a fork, a loaf of bread, a knife, “a perfect fusillade of cups” that had been sitting on the table.59 Woodward’s mother’s anger was “frequent and violent,” and “she aimed her blows without feeling or restraint.” Once she split Kathleen’s head open, and another time she aimed a fork at her, “which dangerously pierced my side.”60 Although Osgerby could not remember ever having been “cuddled or kissed or ‘loved’” as a child, she could remember being hit only too clearly. The punishment, she grimly recalled, “was always done by my mother, and truly she was very capable at the job.” Her bottom “was smacked so very often sometimes for such small faults, such as a sulky look … if any of us cried for some reason she was not aware of we got a smacked bottom so that she would know what we were crying for.”61 Many other writers had their own tales to tell. Jack Lawson described several incidents of physical violence at the hands of his mother, including one time when she tore into the children’s bedroom in a fury and ripped off their clothes, and “a leather strap swished and crackled against our bare bodies.”62 Such was her loss of control that her husband ordered her to stop, fearful for his children’s lives. One writer remembered a mother’s “solid, terrifying discipline”; another recalled living in fear of a “cruel and spiteful” mother with a short temper and a cane that was frequently taken down from its place on the wall.63 To suggest that incidents such as these are “mundane” and can be straightforwardly accommodated within the framework of loving parents is a shameful misreading of the evidence. Furthermore, the autobiographies reveal that although occasional corporal punishment might be accommodated within families, high levels of violence were detrimental to the quality of the emotional tie between mother and child. Among Hannah Mitchell’s complaints about her mother were her “nagging, ravings and beatings.”64 It was not the basis of a successful relationship, she concluded, but helped to create “an antipathy … between us, which lasted all our lives.”65 Another linked the violence she experienced to more general feelings of fear that pervaded her childhood: she had “lived in a world uncertain and often afraid … My mother’s face, when I touched her, was always cold and I knew that all was not well.”66 Almost none of those who reported high levels of physical punishment did so in the context of loving family relationships. Sticks, straps, and belts may have been commonplace, but they still had the power to damage. It is clear from this evidence that the standard claims about the working-class family fail to capture some of the darker aspects of their intimate life. The harsh mothers of George Acorn and Kathleen Woodward are well known to British family historians, yet there has been a collective refusal to accept that their accounts of emotional and physical abuse might upend the established narrative. Instead, their stories are dismissed as “atypical” or even ingeniously reworked to find a “statement about mother love” or the “great, loving maternal instinct” within the Victorian working class.67 This is a distortion of what Acorn, Woodward, and many others were trying to say. Their point, rather, was that while their mothers were hardworking and industrious within the home, they were also emotionally distant, at times physically abusive, and that this mattered. It is time to engage seriously with these non-standard narratives, and to situate these mothers and their unhappy children within our historical understanding of the emotions of family life. It is also clear that the emotions framework, with its emphasis on the mutability of human emotions, is more convincing than the cultural history paradigm of underlying continuity in human emotion across time and space. The autobiographies reveal just how powerful cultural constructs really were. A construction of motherhood stripped bare of emotional content did not automatically strip all loving emotion from the heart of mother-child relations as well—as we have seen, many mothers did forge successful intimate relationships with their children, these precepts notwithstanding. But it certainly played a role in validating and sustaining patterns of maternal behavior that left children feeling unloved. This point was explained with great clarity by one autobiographical writer. Elizabeth Coleman accepted that her parents had conformed to Victorian expectations: “True, my brothers and myself had a good home, inasmuch as we were well fed and decently clothed.” But she also recalled having been raised in an austere emotional environment. She had been “brought up to fear and obey my parents, and had known little of love or great kindness.” She had no memory of “cuddling or kissing” in the family, but had not forgotten her mother’s fist—it had been “used to great effect.” These things clearly played a significant role in shaping her final assessment: “I do not think that I loved either of my parents,” she concluded.68 And this, following Reddy, constitutes a core working principle for historians of the emotions: culture does not just describe emotional life, it shapes it. It is clear that many mothers managed to live up, in some measure, at least, to the usual expectations of motherhood. They kept their offspring housed, fed, and clothed, even if some were less successful at meeting the children’s emotional needs. But as we continue to read across the autobiographies, we are forced to confront an uncomfortable truth: not all mothers managed even this. In a number of cases, mothers were unable to fulfill even the most basic of duties, such as the provision of food, warmth, and shelter. Getting at these kinds of experiences, however, poses new challenges. While changing ideas about the treatment of children in the twentieth century opened up a space for writers born in the Victorian period to discuss matters that had previously been out of bounds, such as the extent to which they had felt loved and nurtured and how they had experienced physical punishment, there were some things that had not changed. Mothers were not supposed to be alcoholics. They were not supposed to neglect their children, or to raise them in dirty, squalid conditions. They were certainly not supposed to abandon them. And the ongoing hold of these expectations posed problems for writers who had experienced something that lay outside any recognizable social norm. In the 1990s, with the publication of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir, a new literary genre—the misery memoir—provided a template for writing about such themes. But the autobiographies discussed here were penned many years before the emergence of the misery memoir. Our authors had no model for describing parental neglect, and almost no appetite for doing so.69 They deployed a number of different strategies. For example, when recalling her hard childhood and the many chores she had had to perform for her mother, Mrs. Wrigley placed her complaints in the mouth of her sister: “I am not saying what my other sister said, but she thought my mother was very cruel.”70 Flora Thompson shielded her drunken father by writing her autobiographical memoirs in the third person and with names of individuals and places changed—though even with this precaution, she left out the more unsavory aspects of his behavior.71 Kathleen Hilton-Foord turned to poetry. The prose version of her autobiography provided a simple narrative account of her childhood with her grandmother; the verse version revealed the emotional pain caused by her exclusion from the home her parents shared with her four brothers—the heavy “feeling of rejection” that she carried around for years afterward.72 Others opted simply to omit any discussion of their early years at all. Frank Bullen wrote four volumes of autobiographical reminiscences, but it was only in the fourth that he referred to his early home life and the absence of his mother, and even then he did so in the most coded of terms.73 Earlier versions of his lengthy life story had begun when he was age nine. In reality, of course, most authors could not tell their life story without at least some reference to their childhood, and the failure of basic care or the absence of a mother was so obvious and so serious that it was generally impossible to avoid letting some details slip out. Yet the memory of such things could be unpleasant and difficult. Herbert Harris wrote about his separation from his mother and his subsequent incarceration in an orphanage some seventy years after it had happened, yet he confessed that “even now I have pangs of anguish and depression when I give thought to the story.”74 He, like many others, wanted to brush over negative experiences and offered no more than the sketchiest outline of this part of his life.75 As a result, new reading strategies are required to make sense of life stories that were incomplete, muddled, or incoherent. Consider, for instance, Les Moss’s verdict regarding his mother. She was, he declared, “a good mother”; in fact, she “couldn’t have been a better mother.” Indeed, he had “two good parents, there’s no shadow of a doubt about that.” But gnawing away at this account of “good” parents are some contradictory facts that he also disclosed. His father was an alcoholic whose drinking reduced the family to poverty. And his mother was “very strong willed … [and] a jawpot. She couldn’t seem to be enjoying herself unless she was jawing at something.” All this had had serious implications for his childhood self. His mother’s “weakness,” he concluded, had “spoilt everything in the family.” When his parents began fighting late at night, he was “frightened to death … and used to dread what was going to happen.”76 Moss’s autobiography provides his reader with two very different versions of his childhood: a home with two good parents doing their best, and a home destroyed by heavy drinking and domestic conflict. And this captures a recurring difficulty of using autobiographies to try and recover the reality of working-class life. Historians are dependent upon the words of individuals who were deeply, sometimes tragically, bound up in events with serious personal consequences. This tendency of writers to provide ambiguous accounts emerges particularly clearly in cases of neglect and abandonment. Many simply did not want to analyze a childhood that had included a prolonged period of neglect or separation. Rebecca Jarrett, for example, insisted that her mother was a “good mother.” Yet her own narrative contained evidence that fatally undermined that assessment—it explained that her mother was an alcoholic and a prostitute who had started selling Rebecca for sex at the age of twelve.77 Mrs. Layton’s mother took to drinking gin when her children were small, leading to years of poor health and an early death. But like Rebecca Jarrett, the adult Mrs. Layton refused to countenance that her mother’s alcoholism may have ultimately diminished the quality of the care she had provided: she was “a good kind mother … she could not have done much better for her children than she did.”78 A similar tension is evident in those who were abandoned by their mothers. James Hawke, for example, spoke in warm tones about the mother who had left him. He concluded that she “must have had great courage,” adding that he had “always felt kindly towards my mother,” and expressing regret that he had not been able to find her as an adult. But the truth was that James’s mother had left him at such a young age that he could not really remember “anything personal” about her. And those things that he could remember do not make for easy reading. Before abandoning James, his mother “did not show much affection for [me].” His few recollections of their years together included an “unmerciful hiding” and a “sound beating with the buckle-end of a belt” that he received at her hands.79 The only other things he could remember were the ache in his heart when he realized that his mother preferred his sister to him, and the actual moment of her departure.80 Betty May interpreted her abandonment in a similar way. After a furious row between Betty and her brother, their mother unceremoniously dumped the pair of them with their father—an alcoholic who ran a brothel, from whom she had separated many years previously.81 Yet Betty May did not condemn her mother for sending her to live with her drunken father; in fact, she took much of the blame for the calamity upon herself. After all, she reasoned, she and her siblings had “needed a great deal of looking after,” and was it not her own misbehavior—she had thrown her brother’s boots into the canal—that had precipitated the separation?82 Henry Price’s mother had twice abandoned her son, first as an infant and then a second time after a brief reunion when Henry was seven. He could recollect only the second rejection, and he placed the blame for it squarely on his stepfather. His mother, he claimed, had not wanted the separation—for her the parting “was a bitter one.”83 Repeatedly writers made brave attempts to reframe the circumstances of their abandonment, so that although this vital detail is shared with the reader, no complaint is made about the mother for her role in it. William Luby, in attempting to explain how he had ended up homeless and living with a drunkard when he was just nine years old, needed to describe the home life he had previously shared with his mother: she had not been feeding him; he was treated “much like a dog or any animal.”84 Yet he never articulated any criticism of his mother for his childhood of homelessness and neglect. Others provided narrative accounts of their mother’s departure without making any attempt to explore its meaning or significance. Jim Uglow, for instance, recalled how his father had returned from a two-year trip at sea to find “a three months old baby in a pram, a pile of debts and three very neglected children.” After a few ugly scenes, his mother left with the new baby and its father: she “just disappeared from our lives.” By the same token, she just disappeared from Jim’s narrative.85 Alongside these writers who were unwilling to explore the significance of their abandonment were others who had been left at such an early age that they really knew nothing about their birth family.86 They were unable to provide any kind of account of their mothers. The ways in which writers addressed difficult childhood experiences have served to obscure the historical record. If there was one thing that autobiographers liked to write about, it was their hardworking mothers; and the prevalence of these mother figures in the autobiographical narrative has encouraged historians to emphasize the importance of domestic work, and even to interpret this as an alternative expression of love. But we should not confuse the dominance of a particular motif in written documents with the dominance of those traits in historical reality. As we have seen, the autobiographers include individuals with a very different story to tell, individuals whose mothers had suffered from addiction or who had neglected or abandoned their children for other, perhaps unexplained, reasons. And although writers were sometimes able to discuss parents who had failed to live up to part of the twentieth century’s new ideals concerning affection and discipline, they were far less willing to expose and dwell upon these more fundamental failings of care. Instead, their stories were told in hesitant, non-critical, and sometimes confusing ways. But we do not need to accept our writers’ blithe assurances that maternal addiction or abandonment did not disrupt their childhood, that despite it all they had had a “good mother.” These difficult stories may not resonate clearly through the autobiographical literature in the same way as the hard-working, industrious housewife, but we nonetheless need to find a place for them in our understanding. In order to do this, it is helpful to try to evaluate how widespread they really were. Reading across the autobiographies has illustrated that family life consisted in a material and an emotional element, and that these two elements could combine in many different ways. There were mothers who provided their children with a safe, clean, and loving home, but also mothers who performed the same household tasks without meeting their children’s emotional needs. More occasionally, mothers failed to provide either material or emotional care. So how do the various kinds of experiences described in the four hundred-odd autobiographies looked at here stack up? Was emotional and material neglect a marginal experience of the underprivileged few, and therefore something that we historians can also put to the edge of our accounts? Or was it a more common experience for the working-class child? Let us start with those writers who described happy homes, loving mothers, and contented childhoods. Around 40 percent of all the autobiographers fit into this category—35 percent of men and 40 percent of women. In most of these cases, the mothers performed their housework efficiently, but it was not this alone that caused their children to feel contented. In all of these cases, the writers drew attention to some additional maternal qualities—love, affection, kindness, patience, good humor—that had underpinned their well-being. At nearly half of the autobiographical writers, this provides some support for the standard view that family love was able to thrive despite the very different socioeconomic context within Victorian Britain. Yet with more than half of all writers failing to describe their family life in these terms, this account is also far from complete. In addition, a third of writers produced neutral accounts that are not open to further interpretation. There is a large gender difference in writing styles here: 45 percent of male writers, as against 28 percent of female writers, displayed this reticence. About half made some reference to their mother’s domestic skills—her cooking, cleaning, provisioning—but did not say anything about the emotional texture of their childhood. The other half wrote nothing about their mother at all, not even indicating how she fared as a housekeeper. The tendency has been to assume that as these writers did not indicate otherwise, they were presumably raised in loving homes, but we must resist this temptation. By the twentieth century, working-class writers had the tools to describe an emotionally content childhood—as we have just seen, some 40 percent of all writers did so. But this 30 percent did not. Silence in the autobiographies is complex, and it should certainly not be readily equated with comforting notions of familial love and well-being. This leaves a final group who articulated a far more disturbing account of neglect, addiction, excessive violence, abandonment, or simple indifference on the part of their mothers. This group is not negligible. Just over 20 percent fell into this category, 18 percent of the men and 25 percent of the women. The gender difference may be owing to the fact that female writers tended to be more critical of their mothers and more indulgent toward their fathers (while for men the reverse was true), or it may stem from that large group of men (45 percent) who wrote nothing about their families: perhaps men were more likely to use silence to conceal negative experiences. Either way, among both sexes, just under 10 percent reported serious neglect, addiction, or abandonment. The remainder (8 percent of men and 15 percent of women) wrote about mothers who were emotionally distant or physically aggressive, but who nevertheless played their expected part in providing food, clothes, and lodging. At somewhere between one in five and one in four writers, this was a fairly sizable subset of working-class children experiencing a range of problems, from emotional detachment to severe neglect. Of course, how far the life stories narrated in the autobiographies map onto lived experience is more difficult to assess. In the final analysis, it is not possible to move from the few to the many, or to know what lay behind the silence of the third of writers who did not discuss family matters. There will always be questions about who wrote an autobiography and why. Nonetheless, there is surely enough evidence to suggest that these writers reliably draw attention to a significant and neglected feature of life in the working-class family in Victorian Britain. If the stories reported here are anywhere close to lived experience, large numbers of working-class children were at risk of emotional or material neglect. Somewhere between a fifth and a quarter of all children in our sources reported receiving insufficient care from their mothers to ensure their well-being. There are no grounds for believing that the experiences described in the autobiographies were any more bleak than those of the population at large, and good reason to suspect that at least some of the writers who did not divulge any personal family detail may have been concealing negative experiences. Clearly we are dealing with a very substantial minority, sufficient to force a reassessment of comforting notions about the stability of family love through the ages. In conclusion, it is time to travel back from the specificity of working-class families in Victorian Britain to the general terrain of emotions history. How do the central tenets of emotions history stand up when we take men from the center of our studies and put women in their place? And does it matter if those women lacked power, were sometimes illiterate, and were always poor? It must be clear that the conceptual framework provided by the history of emotions has allowed us to move away from a concept of maternal love as universal and unchanging, and acknowledge the true range and complexity of familial experiences. Furthermore, exploring the space between cultural prescription and emotional reality has greatly enhanced our understanding. Reddy argued that emotional life does not sit apart from prevailing cultural values, or “emotional regimes,” but is shaped by them, and so indeed it seems from the evidence considered here. These sources indicate that working-class culture placed greater store on the provision of material care than emotional care. The absence of sustained emphasis on love and affection did not mean that love and affection never existed between mother and child, but it did permit a range of legitimate parenting styles in which these emotions were expressed only ineffectually. Equally, cultural norms allowing parents an unfettered right to strike their children had direct emotional implications. As one autobiographer wrote of his father, whose discipline he described as “rigid” and “inhumane,” “I rarely recall feeling for him the faintest glow of affection—remembrances of stern discipline were always too near for that.”87 The cultural norms for raising children in Victorian Britain were austere. We should not attempt to gloss this by redefining the performance of arduous household labor as an alternative expression of love. Instead, we should accept the central insight of recent research into the emotions: emotions are changeable and shaped by the cultural norms in which they are situated. Victorian Britain produced historically contingent cultural configurations for family life, and these in turn contributed to unique patterns of emotional experience. Yet for all the ways in which emotions history can help us to penetrate some aspects of working-class family life, there are others that it fails to elucidate. We have seen that a space existed between cultural precept and social practice that could be filled in different ways by different mothers; but we have also encountered a stubborn core of mothers whose choices sat outside all expected bounds. How do we understand mothers who simply failed to conform to Victorian expectations? Cultural configurations were never monolithic, but some certainly had a very wide purchase. There was little dissent from the belief that mothers should provide the unpaid labor required to feed and clothe their children. I have found no configurations anywhere that permitted mothers to spend the housekeeping money on drink, or to neglect or abandon their children. Yet in a significant minority of families, these unscripted behaviors occurred. Some mothers and their children were living out their family relationships in ways that were almost wholly untouched by the prevailing values. So what were the determining influences in families such as these? If culture was not effective in ensuring that these children’s core physical needs were met, what other forces were at work? We must also question the existing literature’s preoccupation with the interplay between emotions and power. The most innovative work in emotions history not only has sought to explore the relationships between culture and emotions; it has also endeavored to situate these processes within a wider political framework. As Ute Frevert has observed, “feelings were very important to social and political order. They could generate and stabilize such order, but they could also do the opposite.”88 Or as Reddy has recently restated, “Emotional experience … is always of great political significance.”89 Indeed, it has arguably been this concerted effort of emotions historians to connect cultural, literary, emotional, and political worlds that has given emotions history its keen analytical edge. But these connections have been overwhelmingly drawn from analyzing the emotional history of social elites, and of men more often than women.90 When elite adult males are de-centered from our analyses, this project to decode the politics of emotion looks far less compelling. This is not to deny that there is a political aspect to motherhood. Of course, states do sometimes take an interest in the practices of working-class mothers (one thinks, for example, of the pro-natalist policies of the twentieth century), and the family is certainly the site of small-scale power relations between men and women.91 Yet these general observations do not take us far in understanding why the Victorian working classes privileged the physical labor of motherhood over the emotional, or why mothers forged their parenting practice out of the cultural material they had to hand in the precise ways they did. To give just one example, when an exhausted George Acorn fell down a flight of steps while carrying up the family’s water, his mother did not soothe her son’s bruised body, offer him “sympathy,” or inquire “whether [he] was hurt.” She gave him a thump and berated him for breaking the family’s water bottle.92 We can agree that there is a political context for mothering, yet this does little to help us understand why Mrs. Acorn’s mothering strategy involved thumps rather than the more recognizable elements of maternal love. We can proceed only by recognizing that there was a very large difference between the male social elites who are at the heart of most emotions research and the women, poor and often illiterate, whose life stories are examined here. Elite adult males are firmly embedded within their society’s formal networks of power. Even when this is not manifested in formal political office-holding, male elites nonetheless enjoy favored access to resources and power. These conditions do not hold for poor women, but a very different context does come into view: poverty. The historical actors we have looked at here were not middle-class groups grasping for a firmer grip on power, but lower-class groups scraping along a very coarse material edge. Power was firmly out of reach; poverty and hunger were terrifyingly close. And there was something about this economic precariousness that seeped into the core of these families. In order to make sense of the fragility of some children’s relationships with their mothers, we must address the social and economic realities within which they were situated. Many of the unhappy families described here endured conditions of desperate poverty, and this had a direct impact on the emotional texture of their lives. A number of themes repeatedly appear: extreme poverty, fathers who were drunk or absent (often, of course, a cause of extreme poverty), very large families (again a potential cause of poverty), violent fathers, and bereavement within the family. These themes constitute a thread that runs throughout more than a third of the autobiographies—and although they are sometimes present in the loving families, some combination was almost always present for the writers describing unhappy homes. Single mothers faced particular challenges, working long hours to keep a roof over their family’s heads, yet still responsible for the day-to-day care of dependent children. Allan Taylor’s single mother got around the difficulty of reconciling the need to provide for her four-year-old son with the need to look after him by working at the factory and leaving him alone in their single-room tenement. She tied a string around his waist and attached it to the leg of the bed so that he could move around the room but not approach the fire. The adult Allan appeared to regard this as an example of his mother’s ingenuity—like so many, he was not one to complain. But leaving a child of this age for a twelve-hour day with nothing but short visits at mealtimes was clearly far from ideal as a parenting strategy.93 Betty May also recognized that the circumstances of her mother’s life meant that she could not care adequately for her four children. Having been abandoned by her husband, she worked twelve hours a day at a chocolate factory to keep her household running, all for the meager sum of ten shillings a week. “It would have been excusable if she had neglected us,” Betty ruefully noted.94 Arthur Harding’s mother faced a range of problems that worked against her ability to provide for her children and contributed to her descent into alcoholism. Following an accident in early adulthood when she was hit in the street by “a runaway milk cart,” she was unable to walk properly and suffered from chronic pain. Early in her marriage, she lost her first child, a boy, at the age of two years and nine months.95 And her husband, though present, was hardly an effective family breadwinner. According to Arthur, he was “too lazy to earn a living” and “just an encumbrance really.”96 In the absence of a regular male wage, Mrs. Harding took up sweated labor, working long hours to make matchboxes for a pittance. It is little wonder that her children were neglected, and that her drinking eventually spiraled out of control. Having to spend long hours away from home not only made it impossible to provide adequate care to young children, it was also exhausting and left mothers without the resources to enjoy life. Alfred Coppard, for example, thought that after his father’s death his mother had “became something of a martinet; she had no time to be kind.”97 Backbreaking laundry work and the endless round of domestic chores turned her life into a battle to be endured rather than something to enjoy. It was only as an adult that Kay Pearson understood some of the reasons why, when she was growing up, “no one in our house showed affection.”98 Then she saw the “heartache, poverty, hunger, and above all the loneliness which pervaded her [mother’s] existence” following her husband’s desertion.99 In many of these families, the prevailing cultural prescriptions of motherhood were just a hazy background that provided no more than a vague guiding light. For the most part, these mothers were not framing their mothering around external cultural codes. They just scraped by from day to day as best they could. The absence of a breadwinner created a life of poverty, overwork, and exhaustion as women vainly attempted to double as both wage-earner and caregiver. But the presence of a male head of household was no guarantee of an easier life. Alcoholism was rife in Victorian cities, and the presence of a drunk or aggressive father posed problems of a different kind. Not only did heavy drinking deplete the family finances, it also placed mothers and their children at risk of violence and abuse, and the emotional toll could be heavy. Septimus O’Reilly’s mother had fourteen children to raise, and a husband with a “terrible temper … coming home drunk on a Saturday night and beating her up—and sometimes doing the same thing mid-week, when he was sober, too.” The last assault that Septimus observed was so severe—his father “pasted into her until he’d kicked and punched all the sense out of her”—that Septimus and his siblings feared he had killed her. It all took its toll on her mothering, making her (in Septimus’s opinion) a “whiner and a nagger” who was never seen to “smile or look pleasant.”100 Alice Foley’s father’s drinking left the family mired in poverty and at risk of his unpredictable outbursts of violence. From time to time “he disappeared for weeks, leaving his whereabouts unknown, then just as suddenly he turned up penniless and unkempt.” When recovering from a boozing bout, “his temper was most vicious and unpredictable,” and Alice had a large stock of memories about the outbursts she had witnessed as a child. Worse still, thanks to him her mother ended up with seven children, “none of which she had really wanted.”101 Such tales were told many times over: seventy of the autobiographies mentioned alcoholic fathers, more than 15 percent of the total with living fathers.102 Even sober, wage-earning husbands risked adding new members to the family, with the result that mothers who were only barely coping were further taxed with unending rounds of pregnancy and birth. Faith Osgerby’s mother let all her children know that “babies were not welcomed in the family” and even told Faith about her unsuccessful efforts to abort her—she took gunpowder, “mixing it to a paste in a soapdish on her washstand every night.”103 Alfred Rowse’s mother thought that she had successfully limited her family to just two children, but five years later, Alfred made an appearance. From early childhood he was made to realize what a “regrettable accident” his birth had been, and he grew up with a “feeling of not being wanted.”104 Hannah Mitchell noticed how matters at home had deteriorated after the birth of her mother’s last two children. This, she opined, “seemed to be more than she could endure and our home became more unhappy than ever.”105 Not only were women unable to control their fertility and thus burdened with unwanted children, but this was also an era of high mortality, and the death of husbands, children, and babies could throw functioning households into complete disarray. Following the death of her husband, Joseph Williamson’s mother did a valiant job of raising her eight children, the youngest an infant just three months old, but she was also subject to occasional “fits of depression.” At these times the home became a “dead house,” and the children witnessed terrible displays of “sadness and tears.”106 Their mother had lost a husband and three infants within the space of a few short years, so her low spirits are not hard to understand. Child death appears to have been the trigger for the departure of George Severn’s mother: within the space of a few months, she lost first a daughter nearly two years of age, then “another baby girl” just a few weeks old. Mrs. Severn left the family home within weeks of the second death.107 George Meek, whose mother failed to show him “any love or affection,” lost four of her eight children.108 The endless cycle of (unwanted) pregnancy and birth placed strains on women’s physical and mental health, and the added burden of burying infants and small children completely undid some mothers’ ability to nurture those who remained in their care. What starts to emerge in these women’s stories is a host of forces that must be acknowledged in order to make sense of their emotional lives. There was clearly a material dimension to the emotions of motherhood. Extreme hardship, inadequate and overcrowded housing, and insufficient food placed enormous stress on family relationships and undoubtedly played a role in wearing down an individual’s capacity for meaningful relationships founded on love rather than more practical considerations. But there were non-material components as well. The mother of H. G. Wells did not live at the most impoverished margins of society. The family had no servants, but they did enjoy the luxury of sufficient domestic space for the parents to sleep in separate bedrooms—“their form of birth control,” opined the adult Wells—which at least permitted her to limit the size of her family.109 Yet it was still far from the comfort that the daughter of a respectable innkeeper might have hoped for in her marriage to Mr. Wells. Furthermore, Mrs. Wells’s female status rendered her dependent upon the hopelessly ineffective breadwinner her husband proved to be and left her unable to forge an alternative, more satisfactory life. Then there was the “great tragedy”—the death of her dear daughter Fanny, at just nine years old—an event that permanently fractured her relationship with all her remaining children. Her story reveals what a messy and complex web of experiences she brought to her mothering and how fundamental those experiences were for the emotional lives of those close to her. Clearly there are elements of working-class family life that are not well captured by the existing frameworks of emotions history. A literature that draws heavily on the experiences of elite social groups has convincingly established the connections between culture, emotions, and power, but this schema is of only limited use in explaining how emotions functioned in impoverished families. Working-class mothers founded their parenting decisions on prevailing cultural norms, but they also lived in a harsh world that inflected and constrained their parenting choices in significant ways. Poverty, large families, absent, violent, or alcoholic fathers, and bereavements were powerful external, non-cultural forces that also helped to shape the emotional texture of family life. Above all, these stories of poor and powerless women struggling to raise families on a purse that was always running empty are not presented as an alternative way of conceptualizing emotional life—a template that is suitable for poor people, with all the specific disadvantages they endured, that can sit alongside that which has been developed for social elites. Rather, they are there to suggest that there is a material, experiential dimension to all emotional life, a dimension that may be less relenting for those more comfortably circumstanced, but one that nonetheless cannot be discounted. And this is why it is necessary to cease the handwringing over how hard it is to “do” the emotions of the poor. We fit the socially excluded into our narratives not simply to plug gaps in historical coverage and provide parallel accounts to complement those we already have. We include lower-class voices in our historical reconstructions because the world starts to look fundamentally different when we do. Emma Griffin is Professor of Cultural History at the University of East Anglia. She is the author of Liberty’s Dawn: A People’s History of the Industrial Revolution (Yale University Press, 2013), A Short History of the British Industrial Revolution (Palgrave, 2010), Blood Sport: Hunting in Britain since 1066 (Yale University Press, 2007), and England’s Revelry: A History of Popular Sports and Pastimes, 1660–1830 (Oxford University Press, 2005). She is currently writing a monograph for Yale University Press, provisionally titled Home Economics: Money and Family in the Age of Victoria, which looks at how resources and labor were shared within the family and what this means for our understanding of Victorian prosperity. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the North American Conference for British Studies (Portland, Oregon), the University of East Anglia, the British Association for Victorian Studies (Kent), Erlangen University, Germany, and l’Université Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV), and I would like to thank the organizers and audiences for their engagement. I would also like to thank Gareth Stedman Jones, Peter Mandler, David Milne, Sarah Pearsall, and Tony Wrigley for their encouragement. Especial thanks are owing to the reviewers and editors of the AHR for their careful reading and very helpful comments and suggestions. The British Academy provided a Mid-Career Research Fellowship that enabled me to write this article. Notes 1Edward Shorter, The Making of the Modern Family (London, 1976), 168. See also Lloyd deMause, ed., The History of Childhood (New York, 1974); Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England (New York, 1977), 81, 420, 680, 70, 117; Randolph Trumbach, The Rise of the Egalitarian Family: Aristocratic Kinship and Domestic Relations in Eighteenth-Century England (New York, 1978); Elisabeth Badinter, The Myth of Motherhood: An Historical View of the Maternal Instinct (London, 1981). 2Linda A. Pollock, Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 1500 to 1900 (Cambridge, 1983), 140, 269. See also Steven Ozment, When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), who concluded: “There is little basis in fact for believing that the parents of Reformation Europe loved their children any less or mistreated them any more than modern parents do” (162). 3For thoughts on the “emotional turn,” see in particular Jan Plamper, “The History of Emotions: An Interview with William Reddy, Barbara Rosenwein, and Peter Stearns,” History and Theory 49, no. 2 (2010): 237–265; and Nicole Eustace, Eugenia Lean, Julie Livingston, Jan Plamper, William M. Reddy, and Barbara H. Rosenwein, “The Historical Study of Emotions,” AHR Conversation, American Historical Review 117, no. 5 (December 2012): 1487–1531. 4For mothers, see Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–1850 (London, 1987); M. Jeanne Peterson, Family, Love, and Work in the Lives of Victorian Gentlewomen (Bloomington Ind., 1989); Claudia Nelson and Ann Sumner Holmes, eds., Maternal Instincts: Visions of Motherhood and Sexuality in Britain, 1875–1925 (Basingstoke, 1997); Ellen Bayuk Rosenman and Claudia C. Klaver, eds., Other Mothers: Beyond the Maternal Ideal (Columbus, Ohio, 2008). For fathers, see Stephen M. Frank, Life with Father: Parenthood and Masculinity in the Nineteenth‐Century American North (Baltimore, 1998); John Tosh, A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle‐Class Home in Victorian England (New Haven, Conn., 1999); Shawn Johansen, Family Men: Middle‐Class Fatherhood in Industrializing America (London, 2001); Trev Lynn Broughton and Helen Rogers, eds., Gender and Fatherhood in the Nineteenth Century (Basingstoke, 2007). 5Tosh, A Man’s Place, 100. 6Joanne Bailey, Parenting in England, 1760–1830: Emotion, Identity, and Generation (Oxford, 2012), 27, quote from 47. See also Linda W. Rosenzweig, “‘The Anchor of My Life’: Middle-Class American Mothers and College-Educated Daughters, 1880–1920,” Journal of Social History 25, no. 1 (1991): 5–25; Claudia Nelson, Family Ties in Victorian England (Westport, Conn., 2007). 7Ellen Ross, Love and Toil: Motherhood in Outcast London, 1870–1918 (Oxford, 1993); Jane Humphries, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution (Cambridge, 2010); Carl Chinn, They Worked All Their Lives: Women of the Urban Poor in England, 1880–1939 (Manchester, 1988); Elizabeth Roberts, A Woman’s Place: An Oral History of Working-Class Women, 1890–1940 (Oxford, 1984); Anna Davin, Growing Up Poor: Home, School and Street in London, 1870–1914 (London, 1996). For fathers, see Julie-Marie Strange, Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865–1914 (Cambridge, 2015). See also Andrew Walker, “Fathers’ Pride? Fatherhood in Industrialising Communities,” in Broughton and Rogers, Gender and Fatherhood, 113–125; Helen Rogers, “First in the House: Daughters on Working-Class Fathers and Fatherhood,” ibid., 126–137; Lynn Abrams, “‘There Was Nobody Like My Daddy’: Fathers, the Family and the Marginalisation of Men in Modern Scotland,” Scottish Historical Review 78, no. 206 (1999): 219–242; Laura King, Family Men: Fatherhood and Masculinity in Britain, 1914–1960 (Oxford, 2015). 8For more on the tension between universalist and constructivist approaches to the study of the emotions, see in particular Jan Plamper, The History of Emotions: An Introduction (Oxford, 2015). 9The point is eloquently expressed in Dorothy Ko’s analysis of the Chinese practice of footbinding and her observation that through exposure to anti-footbinding sentiment, modern Western readers have learned to view the custom with disgust. Ko, Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding (Berkeley, Calif., 2005). 10For more on how mothering became “natural,” see Ann Dally, Inventing Motherhood: The Consequences of an Ideal (London, 1982). 11Plamper offers a comprehensive introduction to the current state of play in The History of Emotions, especially the Introduction and chap. 1. 12Peter N. Stearns with Carol Z. Stearns, “Emotionology: Clarifying the History of Emotions and Emotional Standards,” American Historical Review 90, no. 4 (October 1985): 813–836; Barbara H. Rosenwein, “Worrying about Emotions in History,” American Historical Review 107, no. 3 (June 2002): 821–845. 13William M. Reddy, The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions (Cambridge, 2001). 14Carol Zisowitz Stearns and Peter N. Stearns, Anger: The Struggle for Emotional Control in America’s History (Chicago, 1986); Peter N. Stearns, Jealousy: The Evolution of an Emotion in American History (New York, 1989); Barbara H. Rosenwein, ed., Anger’s Past: The Social Uses of an Emotion in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, N.Y., 1998); Martin Francis, “Tears, Tantrums, and Bared Teeth: The Emotional Economy of Three Conservative Prime Ministers, 1951–1963,” Journal of British Studies 41, no. 3 (2002): 354–387; Susan J. Matt, Keeping Up with the Joneses: Envy in American Consumer Society, 1890–1930 (Philadelphia, 2003); Joanna Bourke, Fear: A Cultural History (London, 2005); Michael Roper, “Between Manliness and Masculinity: The ‘War Generation’ and the Psychology of Fear in Britain, 1914–1950,” Journal of British Studies 44, no. 2 (2005): 343–362; Roper, “Slipping out of View: Subjectivity and Emotion in Gender History,” History Workshop Journal, no. 59 (Spring 2005): 57–72; Jan Plamper and Benjamin Lazier, eds., Fear: Across the Disciplines (Pittsburgh, 2012); Michael Laffan and Max Weiss, eds., Facing Fear: The History of an Emotion in Global Perspective (Princeton, N.J., 2012); William M. Reddy, The Making of Romantic Love: Longing and Sexuality in Europe, South Asia, and Japan, 900–1200 CE (Chicago, 2012); Nicole Eustace, 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism (Philadelphia, 2012); Claire Langhamer, The English in Love: The Intimate Story of an Emotional Revolution (Oxford, 2013); Ute Frevert, Pascal Eitler, Stephanie Olsen, Uffa Jensen, Margrit Pernau, Daniel Bruckenhaus, Magdalena Beljan, Benno Gammerl, Anja Laukotter, Bettina Hitzer, Jan Plamper, Juliane Brauer, and Joachim C. Haberlen, Learning How to Feel: Children’s Literature and Emotional Socialization, 1870–1970 (Oxford, 2014); Ute Frevert, Christian Bailey, Pascal Eitler, Benno Gammerl, Bettina Hitzer, Margrit Pernau, Monique Scheer, Anne Schmidt, and Nina Verheyen, Emotional Lexicons: Continuity and Change in the Vocabulary of Feeling, 1700–2000 (Oxford, 2014); Joanna Bourke, The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers (Oxford, 2014); Thomas Dixon, Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears (Oxford, 2015). 15Stearns and Stearns, “Emotionology,” 830. 16Susan J. Matt and Peter N. Stearns, “Introduction,” in Matt and Stearns, eds., Doing Emotions History (Champaign, Ill., 2013), 5; Susan J. Matt, “Recovering the Invisible: Methods for the Historical Study of the Emotions,” ibid., 41–53, here 50. The emphasis on articulate groups is readily evident in Peter N. Stearns and Jan Lewis, eds., An Emotional History of the United States (New York, 1998). 17Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston, 1995); Jordanna Bailkin, “Where Did the Empire Go? Archives and Decolonization in Britain,” American Historical Review 120, no. 3 (June 2015): 884–899; Durba Ghosh, “Decoding the Nameless: Gender, Subjectivity, and Historical Methodologies in Reading the Archives of Colonial India,” in Kathleen Wilson, ed., A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity and Modernity in Britain and the Empire, 1660–1840 (Cambridge, 2004), 297–316; Ghosh, “Another Set of Imperial Turns?,” American Historical Review 117, no. 3 (2012): 772–793; Ranajit Guha, “Chandra’s Death,” Subaltern Studies 5 (1986): 135–165; Mary Poovey, “The Limits of the Universal Knowledge Project: British India and the East Indiamen,” Critical Inquiry 31, no. 1 (2004): 183–202; Antoinette Burton, ed., Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History (Durham, N.C., 2005). 18John Burnett, David Vincent, and David Mayall, eds., The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated Critical Bibliography, vol. 1: 1790–1900 (New York, 1984). The bibliography lists 458 items in this timeframe, a small proportion of which have proved unsuitable for this study, generally either because the autobiography contains no family detail or because the item has been lost or proved unobtainable. This, along with other autobiographies that have come to light, provides the total of 411 life histories, and amounts to a near-comprehensive analysis of the available records. 19See in particular Julie-Marie Strange, “Fatherhood, Providing, and Attachment in Late Victorian and Edwardian Working-Class Families,” Historical Journal 55, no. 4 (2012): 1007–1027. See also Regenia Gagnier, Subjectivities: A History of Self-Representation in Britain, 1832–1920 (Oxford, 1991); Tess Cosslett, Celia Lury, and Penny Summerfield, eds., Feminism and Autobiography: Texts, Theories, Methods (London, 2000); Michael Roper, “Re-Remembering the Soldier-Hero: The Psychic and Social Construction of Memory in Personal Narratives of the Great War,” History Workshop Journal, no. 50 (Autumn 2000): 181–204. 20Carolyn Kay Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives (London, 1986). The problem is also addressed in a very different way by Joan W. Scott, “The Evidence of Experience,” Critical Inquiry 17, no. 4 (1991): 773–797. Also useful is Charlotte Linde, Life Stories: The Creation of Coherence (Oxford, 1993). 21A thoughtful analysis of the difficulty of writing the history of one working-class woman is contained in Seth Koven, The Match Girl and the Heiress (Princeton, N.J., 2015). 22The census of 1851 indicated that 45 percent of the population lived in towns of more than 5,000 souls. Our collection of autobiographies mirrors this closely: 51 percent of the cohort from 1840–1870 lived in towns over 5,000. By 1891, the census recorded that 68 percent of the population lived in towns, as did 66 percent of the cohort from 1871–1903. Urbanization figures taken from C. M. Law, “The Growth of Urban Population in England and Wales, 1801–1911,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 41 (June 1967): 125–143, Table III. A range of different demographic estimates indicate that somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of children had lost either their father or their mother before the age of sixteen. Twenty-four percent of female writers and 27 percent of male writers in our sample had lost one parent by the age of sixteen. The wide range stems from the fact that family breakdown in all its forms is difficult to detect historically. See the discussion in Humphries, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution, 64–65; Michael Anderson, Family Structure in Nineteenth Century Lancashire (Cambridge, 1971); Barry Reay, Microhistories: Demography, Society and Culture in Rural England, 1800–1930 (Cambridge, 1996). There is, unsurprisingly, a gender imbalance in the autobiographies; the majority were written by men (66 percent), while women wrote approximately a third of them. In the figures given below, I use weighted samples for each gender. 23For a consideration of some of these issues in very different contexts, see James R. Barrett, “Was the Personal Political? Reading the Autobiography of American Communism,” International Review of Social History 53, no. 3 (2008): 395–423; Ryan Hanley, “Calvinism, Proslavery and James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw,” Slavery and Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies 36, no. 2 (2015): 360–381; Annie Devenish, “Performing the Political Self: A Study of Identity Making and Self Representation in the Autobiographies of India’s First Generation of Parliamentary Women,” Women’s History Review 22, no. 2 (2013): 280–294; Igal Halfin, Terror in My Soul: Communist Autobiographies on Trial (Cambridge, Mass., 2003). 24Chinn, They Worked All Their Lives, 12–13. 25A wonderful introduction to some of these shifts is contained in Deborah Cohen, Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day (London, 2013). Also useful are Langhamer, The English in Love; Francis, “Tears, Tantrums, and Bared Teeth”; Dixon, Weeping Britannia. 26This was particularly owing to the rise of John Bowlby’s theories of attachment in the 1950s. See Cathy Urwin and Elaine Sharland, “From Bodies to Minds in Childcare Literature: Advice to Parents in Inter-war Britain,” in Roger Cooter, ed., In the Name of the Child: Health and Welfare, 1880–1940 (London, 1992), 174–199; Denise Riley, “War in the Nursery,” Feminist Review, no. 2 (1979): 82–108. 27Philip Inman, No Going Back: An Autobiography (London, 1952), 13; Frank Hodges, My Adventures as a Labour Leader (London, [1924]), 2. 28David Kirkwood, My Life of Revolt (London, 1935), 25. 29John Fraser, Sixty Years in Uniform (London, 1939), 18. 30Sir James Sexton, Sir James Sexton, Agitator: The Life of the Dockers’ M.P.—An Autobiography (London, 1936), 24. See also Chester Armstrong, Pilgrimage from Nenthead: An Autobiography (London, 1938), 32; John Eldred, I Love the Brooks (London, 1955), 20; Thomas Jordan, “Thomas Jordan, Coal-Miner,” in John Burnett, ed., Useful Toil: Autobiographies of Working People from the 1820s to the 1920s (London, 1974), 99–107; George Ratcliffe, Sixty Years of It: Being the Story of My Life and Public Career (London, [1935]), 6; Fred Kitchen, Brother to the Ox: The Autobiography of a Farm Labourer (London, 1940), 9; Sidney R. Campion, Sunlight on the Foothills (London, [1941]), 1; John McGovern, Neither Fear nor Favour (London, 1960), 11; Ben Turner, About Myself, 1863–1930 (London, 1930), 42. 31Timothy Mountjoy, The Life, Labours and Deliverances of a Forest of Dean Collier (n.p., 1887), 1; Edward G. Davis, Some Passages from My Life (Birmingham, 1898), 8; William Hollingsworth, An Autobiographical Sketch of the Life of Mr Wm. Hollingsworth (London, n.d.), 3. See also J. G., The Prisoner Set Free: The Narrative of a Convict in the Preston House of Correction (Preston, 1846), 5. 32Quotes from William Hanson, The Life of William Hanson, Written by Himself, 2nd ed. (Halifax, 1883), 4; Edward Allen Rymer, “The Martyrdom of the Mine, or 60 Years’ Struggle for Life,” ed. Robert G. Neville, History Workshop Journal, no. 1 (Spring 1976): 220–244, 229; Roger Langdon, The Life of Roger Langdon, Told by Himself (London, 1909), 18. Other writers described mothers as good housekeepers who could bake, brew, knit, and sew. See James Nye, A Small Account of My Travels through the Wilderness, ed. Vic Gammon (Brighton, [1981]), 11; Thomas Whittaker, Life’s Battles in Temperance Armour (London, 1884). 33Urwin and Sharland, “From Bodies to Minds in Childcare Literature”; Riley, “War in the Nursery”; Uffa Jensen, “Mrs. Gaskell’s Anxiety,” in Frevert et al., Learning How to Feel, 21–39. 34Plamper’s study of fear describes a similar arc of change with respect to the degree of fear that writers and soldiers were able to express. See Jan Plamper, “Fear: Soldiers and Emotion in Early Twentieth-Century Russian Military Psychology,” Slavic Review 68, no. 2 (2009): 259–283. 35Arthur Newton, Years of Change: Autobiography of a Hackney Shoemaker (London, 1974), 2. 36Elizabeth Bryson, Look Back in Wonder (Dundee, 1966), 30. 37Alfred Ireson, “Reminiscences,” in Burnett, Destiny Obscure, 70–77, here 71–72. 38Quotes from Sir Thomas J. Lipton in collaboration with W. Blackwood, Leaves from the Lipton Logs (London, 1931), 37; Whittaker, Life’s Battles in Temperance Armour, 14, 5. 39Elizabeth Oakley, “The Autobiography of Elizabeth Oakley, 1831–1900,” ed. R. Wilson, Norfolk Record Society 56 (1991): 113–150. 40Edward S. Humphries, “Childhood: An Autobiography of a Boy from 1889–1906,” Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies, Brunel University, London [hereafter Burnett Archive], 1:361, 29. 41Harry Pollitt, Serving My Time: An Apprenticeship to Politics (London, 1940), 19, 18. Thomas Bell was even more prosaic. He thought the reason for all the “scrubbing, cleaning, airing of beds and whitewashing of walls that went on” was simply to keep the family “in decent health.” Bell, Pioneering Days (London, 1941), 18. 42Arthur Frederick Goffin, “The Story of a Grey Life, Being the Autobiography of Arthur Frederick Goffin,” Burnett Archive, 1:271, n.p. 43E. P. Brand, A Fenman Remembers (Huntingdon, 1977), 13. For other busy mothers, see Howard Spring, Heaven Lies about Us (1939; repr., London, 1956), 52–56; Thomas Alfred Jackson, Solo Trumpet: Some Memories of Socialist Agitation and Propaganda (London, 1953), 39. 44George Acorn [pseud.], One of the Multitude (London, 1911), 2–4. 45Ibid., 281. See also George Meek, George Meek, Bath-Chair Man, by Himself (London, 1910), 21, 40, 42, 45–46. 46Kathleen Woodward, Jipping Street (1928; repr., London, 1983), 18–19. 47Amy Grace Rose, volume of reminiscences MS (1945), Cambridge Record Office, Cambridge, P137/28/3, 1–2. 48Faith Dorothy Osgerby, “My Memoirs,” in Burnett, Destiny Obscure, 77–84, here 82, 79. Lack of affection was also noted in M. Abbley, “Soul Adrift—Being the Memoirs of a Queer Child,” Burnett Archive, uncatalogued; Nora Hampton, “Memories of Baptist End, Netherington, Dudley, 1895–1918,” ibid., 3:68; Amy Langley, untitled, ibid., 2:466; Bessie Wallis, “Yesterday,” ibid., 2:794; Daisy Noakes, The Town Beehive: A Young Girl’s Lot, Brighton, 1910–1934, 2nd ed. (Brighton, 1980), 9. 49Hannah Mitchell, The Hard Way Up: The Autobiography of Hannah Mitchell, Suffragette and Rebel, ed. Geoffrey Mitchell (London, 1968), 39, 57. 50Ibid., 39, 40. 51Ibid., 62. 52F. H. Spencer, An Inspector’s Testament (London, 1938), 15, 22, 23, 22. See also Sir Edward Brown, Memories at Eventide (Burnley, 1934), 2–3. 53Elizabeth Flint, Hot Bread and Chips (London, 1963), 24, 17. See also Kate Taylor, “Memoir,” in Burnett, Destiny Obscure, 301–309, here 305. 54Humphries, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution, 143. See also Ellen Ross, Love and Toil, 149–151, who asserts that most of the corporal punishment administered within families fitted within community norms, and contrasts it with the unacceptable violence associated with abuse. 55Sexton, Sir James Sexton, Agitator, 24–25. 56Wil Jon Edwards, From the Valley I Came (London, 1956), 13, 26, 27–28. 57Humphries, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution, 143. 58For more on this shift in attitudes, see Deborah Thom, “‘Beating Children Is Wrong’: Domestic Life, Psychological Thinking and the Permissive Turn,” in Lucy Delap, Ben Griffin, and Abigail Wills, eds., The Politics of Domestic Authority in Britain since 1800 (Basingstoke, 2009), 261–283. 59Acorn, One of the Multitude, 62, 42, 14, 12, 63. 60Woodward, Jipping Street, 19. 61Osgerby, “My Memoirs,” 79. 62Jack Lawson (John James), A Man’s Life (London, 1932), 23. 63Kay Garrett, untitled, Burnett Archive, 2:305, 1; see also May Jones, untitled, ibid., 1:401, 4. Kathleen Dayus, Her People (London, 1982), 6. 64Mitchell, The Hard Way Up, 55, 62. 65Ibid., 57. See also Dayus, Her People, 6. George L. Reakes’s mother’s cane was almost the only thing he remembered about her; Reakes, Man of the Mersey (London, 1956), 10. 66Zoe Fairhurst, “Our Zoe of Gilling West: Her Life Story,” Crosby Library, Waterloo, UK, 920.7 FAI, 2–3. See also Meek, George Meek, Bath-Chair Man, 41; Acorn, One of the Multitude, especially 42. The reverse was also true: contented children often remarked upon the fact that their mothers had not sought to enforce obedience through the use of physical force. See, for example, Bryson, Look Back in Wonder, 15. 67Humphries, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution, 138, 239; Ross, Love and Toil, 168; Chinn, They Worked All Their Lives, 49. Compare, however, Steedman’s very different interpretation of Woodward’s complex text; Landscape for a Good Woman, 91–92. 68Elizabeth Coleman, The Tangled Garden: Memories of My Girlhood (London, 1988), 16. 69For more on the shift away from secrecy in the twentieth century, see in particular Cohen, Family Secrets. 70Mrs. Wrigley, “A Plate-Layer’s Wife,” in Margaret Llewelyn Davies, ed., Life as We Have Known It (1931; repr., London, 1990), 56–66, here 57. Also interesting are those writers who unfavorably contrasted parents with grandparents: A. V. Christie, Brass Tacks and a Fiddle (Kilmarnock, 1943), 20; I Walked by Night: Being the Life and History of the King of the Norfolk Poachers, Written by Himself, ed. Lilias Rider Haggard (London, 1935). 71Flora Thompson, Lark Rise to Candleford (1939; repr., London, 1973); Thompson, Heatherley (Headley Down, Hampshire, 1998), 83. See also Barbara English, “Lark Rise and Juniper Hill: A Victorian Community in Literature and in History,” Victorian Studies 29, no. 1 (1985): 7–34. 72Kathleen Hilton-Foord, “The Survivor: The Memoirs of a Little Dover Girl,” Burnett Archive, 2:398, 1–3; Hilton-Foord, “Grannie’s Girl,” ibid., 2:398, n.p. 73Frank T. Bullen, Recollections: The Reminiscences of the Busy Life of One Who Has Played the Varied Parts of Sailor, Author and Lecturer (London, 1915), 29. 74H. J. Harris, “Autobiographical Letters, 1978–1984,” Burnett Archive, 2:363, letter dated May 4, 1978. 75Indeed, his account is so elliptical that I am unable to establish exactly what had caused the breakup of his family when he was three years old. Ibid., letter dated May 3, 1978, 2–3. 76Les Moss, Live and Learn: A Life and Struggle for Progress (Brighton, 1979), 6–7. 77Rebecca Jarrett, “Rebecca Jarrett: Written by Her Own Self,” Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, William Booth College, RJ/2/2, 3. 78Mrs. Layton, “Memories of Seventy Years,” in Davies, Life as We Have Known It, 1–55, here 8. For alcoholic mothers, see also Catherine Cookson, Our Kate: An Autobiographical Memoir (London, 1969); [Arthur Harding], East End Underworld: Chapters in the Life of Arthur Harding, ed. Raphael Samuel (London, 1981); Kay Garrett, untitled, Burnett Archive, 2:305, 1; Annie Lord, “My Life,” ibid., 2:486; Pat O’Mara, The Autobiography of a Liverpool Slummy (1934; repr., Liverpool, 2009); Sam Shaw, Guttersnipe (London, [1946]); Jane Walsh, Not Like This (London, 1953). The idea of the “good mother” is also problematized in Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman, 1, 16–17. 79Major James Hawke, From Private to Major (London, 1938), 13, 14. 80Ibid., 14. 81Betty May, Tiger-Woman: My Story (London, 1929), 19. 82Ibid., 14, 17–18. 83Henry Edward Price, “My Diary,” Islington Local History Centre, Finsbury Library, London, 1032 S/HEP, 5. In fact, by the time the illegitimate Henry returned to his mother at the age of seven, she had married and given birth to another son, whom she had also named Henry. Her naming choice suggests that she had not anticipated taking her firstborn Henry back into her home. See also Hilton-Foord, “The Survivor,” 1, 5, and “Grannie’s Girl,” n.p. 84William Luby, “William Luby, Sweet-Boiler,” in Burnett, Useful Toil, 89–99, here 96. 85Jim Uglow, Sailorman: A Barge-Master’s Story (London, 1975), 16. 86See, for instance, Francis Anthony, A Man’s a Man (London, 1932); John Gray, Gin and Bitters (London, [1938]); Sir Henry Morton Stanley, The Autobiography of Sir Henry Morton Stanley, G.C.B., ed. Dorothy Stanley (Boston, 1909); Edward Balne, “Autobiography of an Ex-Workhouse and Poor Law School Boy,” Burnett Archive, 1:37; Edward Brown, untitled, ibid., 1:93. 87Michael Home, Autumn Fields (London, 1946), 8, 10. 88Ute Frevert, “Emotional Knowledge: Modern Developments,” in Frevert et al., Emotional Lexicons, 260–273, here 271. 89William M. Reddy, “Emotional Turn? Feelings in Russian History and Culture: Comment,” Slavic Review 68, no. 2 (2009): 329–334, here 330. 90In addition to Reddy, “Emotional Turn?,” see Stephen D. White, “The Politics of Anger,” in Rosenwein, Anger’s Past, 127–152; Eustace, 1812; Barbara H. Rosenwein, “Thinking Historically about Medieval Emotions,” History Compass 8, no. 8 (2010): 828–842; Margrit Pernau et al., Civilizing Emotions: Concepts in Nineteenth Century Asia and Europe (Oxford, 2015); Frevert et al., Emotional Lexicons. 91See Seth Koven and Sonya Michel, “Womanly Duties: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States in France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States, 1880–1920,” American Historical Review 95, no. 4 (October 1990): 1076–1108. 92Acorn, One of the Multitude, 40–43, quotes from 42. 93Allan K. Taylor, From a Glasgow Slum to Fleet Street (London, [1949]), 1–2. 94May, Tiger-Woman, 14. 95[Harding], East End Underworld, 22, 24–25, 28–29, 65, quote from 21. 96Ibid., 69, 65. 97A. E. Coppard, It’s Me, O Lord! An Abstract and Brief Chronicle of Some of the Life with Some of the Opinions of A. E. Coppard (London, 1957), 30. 98Kay Pearson, Life in Hull: From Then till Now (Hull, 1980), 68. 99Ibid., 72. See also Jarrett, “Rebecca Jarrett,” 3; Jack Lanigan, “Incidents in the Life of a Citizen,” in Burnett, Destiny Obscure, 85–90. 100Septimus O’Reilly, The Tiger of the Legion: Being the Life Story of “Tiger” O’Reilly as Told to William J. Elliott (London, [1936]), 26. 101Alice Foley, A Bolton Childhood (Manchester, 1973), 9. 102For a few other examples, see Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography (London, 1964); Lanigan, “Incidents in the Life of a Citizen,”; Jack Martin, Ups and Downs: The Life Story of a Working Man (Bolton, 1973); Shaw, Guttersnipe; Walsh, Not Like This; Emlyn Williams, George: An Early Autobiography (London, 1961). 103Osgerby, “My Memoirs,” 79. See also John Langley, Always a Layman (Brighton, 1976), 14. 104A. L. Rowse, A Cornish Childhood: Autobiography of a Cornishman, 6th ed. (London, 1956), 80, 86. See also Brand, A Fenman Remembers, 13. 105Mitchell, The Hard Way Up, 40. 106Joseph Williamson, Father Joe: The Autobiography of Joseph Williamson of Poplar and Stepney (London, 1963), 19. 107J. Millott Severn, The Life Story and Experiences of a Phrenologist (Brighton, 1929), 5–6. 108Meek, George Meek, Bath-Chair Man, 21. The legacy of a child’s death is also evident in the autobiography of the writer H. G. Wells. Herbert George Wells, Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (since 1866) (London, 1934). See also Acorn, One of the Multitude; [Harding], East End Underworld. 109Wells, Experiment in Autobiography, 24. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical Association. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail journals.permissions@oup.com.

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