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32 - The middle classes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2012

Priti Joshi
Affiliation:
University of Puget Sound
Sally Ledger
Affiliation:
Birkbeck College, University of London
Holly Furneaux
Affiliation:
University of Leicester
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Summary

Class is a notoriously vexed concept, its definition and utility routinely questioned. Theorists have long debated whether it should be described as an economic category or a social formation, and whether the salient criteria used to sort populations ought to be wealth, income or living standards; occupation or profession; consciousness, status, or power; identity, outlook, or interests; or some combination of these. Despite the dissension and uncertainty, ‘class’ continues to be used as a shorthand to mark the divisions between, most broadly, the aristocracy or upper class, the middle class and the lower or working class. As with ‘class’, so with the three-class model: critiques of it are legion, yet it persists as a handy heuristic. For the period under consideration, the three-class model divides the landscape such that the Victorian middle class includes, at the very least, manufacturers, bankers and lawyers; professionals, small property holders and landlords; tradesmen, retailers and shopkeepers; clerks and clergymen, military and naval officers. Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall note that included in the middle class were those whose incomes ranged from £100 to £1,000 per annum. The numbers in this income bracket varied regionally, but across the nation at mid century about 8 to 10 per cent of the population belonged in it. The spectrum is broad – too wide and unwieldy for some – and it should not be a surprise that a Cadbury of Birmingham would have little in common with a London grocer or Cornish schoolmaster.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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  • The middle classes
  • Edited by Sally Ledger, Birkbeck College, University of London, Holly Furneaux, University of Leicester
  • Book: Charles Dickens in Context
  • Online publication: 05 August 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511975493.034
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  • The middle classes
  • Edited by Sally Ledger, Birkbeck College, University of London, Holly Furneaux, University of Leicester
  • Book: Charles Dickens in Context
  • Online publication: 05 August 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511975493.034
Available formats
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To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • The middle classes
  • Edited by Sally Ledger, Birkbeck College, University of London, Holly Furneaux, University of Leicester
  • Book: Charles Dickens in Context
  • Online publication: 05 August 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511975493.034
Available formats
×