‘This is about an ordinary average life with all its ups and downs’: Continuity and change in the life and family experiences of fifty English working-class individuals between the years 1900 and 1945
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AuthorsBall, Rebecca Mary
MetadataShow full item record
AbstractThis thesis is a study of the everyday lives of fifty working-class individuals in the first half of the twentieth century. These twenty-six women and twenty-four men were all born between 1899 and 1915 in England and self-identified as working class. These individuals were not politicians, influential historical figures or famous household names – such life histories have been recounted on many occasions – rather these are ‘ordinary average’ people, whose unpublished autobiographies this thesis draws upon to offer an insight into the everyday struggles, sacrifices and triumphs that the working class experienced between the years 1900 and 1945. By taking a microhistorical approach and focusing on this sample of fifty life stories, this thesis sheds light on wartime life, the impact of social change and the continued importance of working-class family values during the first half of the twentieth century. It uses these autobiographies to question the assumption that living through a period that witnessed two world wars would automatically equate to a life that was completely overshadowed by them. It also challenges the often accepted idea that wider social changes such as educational reform, the opening up of new employment opportunities and the fertility decline would have necessarily affected each working-class individual, suggesting instead that whilst change in these areas had certainly occurred by the end of the twentieth century, it was often too late to affect the lives of these autobiographers. Instead, the autobiographies suggest that the working-class lives were shaped by other issues of significance, most notably domesticity and the family life cycle. The thesis’ chapters focus on the five topics that the autobiographers most frequently discussed: death, absence, family relationships, consumption (with a particular focus on leisure, food and housing), and education and employment opportunities. The reminiscences on these topics revealed much that confirmed existing academic insights into working-class life between the years 1900 and 1945, including the importance of domestic ideals to working-class family life and the continued popularity of marriage as an institution Yet, importantly, as this thesis argues, they also revealed a variety of differing, although equally relevant and noteworthy experiences that have thus far been overlooked. These include a distinct lack of war-related deaths or war-related absences of immediate family members despite living through two conflicts, the subtle shift towards a companionate style of marriage and the significance of expectations of the working-class family life cycle in responses to instances of death or absence.
PublisherUniversity of Wolverhampton
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Wolverhampton for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
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