Bread Winner An Intimate History of the Victorian Economy Emma Griffin

Publication date:
28 Apr 2020
Yale University Press
320 pages: 235 x 156mm
32 b-w illus.
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The overlooked story of how ordinary women and their husbands managed financially in the Victorian era – and why so many struggled despite increasing national prosperity

Nineteenth century Britain saw remarkable economic growth and a rise in real wages. But not everyone shared in the nation’s wealth. Unable to earn a sufficient income themselves, working-class women were reliant on the ‘breadwinner wage’ of their husbands. When income failed, or was denied or squandered by errant men, families could be plunged into desperate poverty from which there was no escape.

Emma Griffin unlocks the homes of Victorian England to examine the lives – and finances – of the people who lived there. Drawing on over 600 working-class autobiographies, including more than 200 written by women, Bread Winner changes our understanding of daily life in Victorian Britain.

Emma Griffin is professor of modern British history at the University of East Anglia. She is the author of five books, including Liberty's Dawn and Blood Sport.

“[T]his book brings the trials and tribulations of the 19th century to life.”—History Revealed

“Griffin's pioneering research shifts our attention from the generalities of economic growth to the realities of lived experience. Her humane and human book is an outstanding contribution to the history of Victorian Britain.”— Martin Daunton, author of Wealth and Welfare

“Bread Winner is a love affair with life-writing. The extraordinary voices of the poor, the ambitious, the mobile and the utterly insignificant of Victorian Britain are brought together to tell us how they got by in a precarious world.”—Lucy Delap, author of Knowing Their Place

“A sobering – and important – account of the human dimensions of economic life … Makes a powerful case for why attention to the family is indispensable to any understanding of the Victorian economy.” —Deborah Cohen, author of Family Secrets

“Griffin's startling re-evaluation of the Victorian family, powered by the voices and experiences of the poor themselves, is both rigorous and moving in its human detail and searching analyses.”—Peter Mandler, author of The English National Character