Histories of the late Victorian working-class family focus overwhelmingly on mothers. When men feature in family dynamics, it is within the context of their obligation to provide. Despite the familiarity of this model of family life, it is problematic, not least because it is partial. Written from a women's history perspective, such analyses have inevitably, and understandably, focused on the ‘dark side’ of breadwinning and privileged women's experiences as wives and mothers. Further, they have tended to make husbands synonymous with fathers. Drawing on working-class autobiography, this article revisits the cliché of the ‘good provider’ to suggest that children could invest the normative paternal obligation to provide with intimate and individual meaning, reimagining breadwinning as an act of devotion that distinguished particular father–child relationships within a context of more general working-class values. It does not suggest that women were not oppressed by the breadwinner ideal, or that attachment to mothers and fathers was the same. Rather, it calls for recognition of the fluidity of a sexual division of affective labour whereby, in memory at least, fathers' obligation to provide could be deeply embedded within an understanding of the emotional dynamics of everyday life.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.