Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Julie-Marie Strange's "Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865-1914"

Julie-Marie Strange is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester, UK and author of Death, Grief and Poverty, 1870-1914.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865-1914, and reported the following:
Page 99 falls in the introduction to Chapter 2, ‘Love and Want: Unemployment, Failure and the Fragile Father’ and draws attention to the way in which scholars in the western world have tended to focus on male unemployment as the motor to family breakdown, domestic violence and women and children’s shame. Using men and children’s testimonies of paternal unemployment in the late-Victorian and Edwardian period, the chapter considers how men and children gave meaning to fatherhood when fathers could not ‘provide’ and explores how men sought to compensate for ‘failure’ as breadwinners by making myriad other sacrifices, such as deskilling, going ‘on the tramp’, and performing domestic work and childcare tasks. In particular, the chapter focuses on unemployed men’s refusal of food in favor of redistributing nutritional resources to wives and children as symptomatic of the extent of the unemployed father’s self recrimination and guilt.

The chapter considers the degree to which men and children incorporated failure into unemployed fathers’ identities. The chapter also contends that in an interpersonal context, fatherhood as a category could possess sufficient elasticity to absorb the unemployed man. This complicated unemployed men’s status as ‘failures’ to posit a gentler conception of unemployed fathers as ‘fragile’.

The chapter reflects the concern of the book: to shift historical conceptions of working-class fatherhood in the western world away from a ‘deficit’ model of fatherhood that focuses on men primarily as (unreliable) providers, paternal absence and the abuse of male power towards an understanding of how men and children invest meaning in fatherhood as a changing relationship and process over the life cycle.
Learn more about Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865-1914 at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue