Saturday, 28 February 2015

Review of "Out of Work"

You've probably noticed by now that a lot of the books I post about are, to put it lightly, a bit 'obscure'. However, I don't think this makes them any less valuable. As part of my course at university I get the opportunity to read a great number of texts that I otherwise would simply never come across, and although yes, I find some of them terribly dreary, a lot of them are incredibly eye opening. Take this book for example - written by John Law (Margaret Harkness) and published in 1888, it reads like a more easily understandable and shorter Dickens. As a lover of Dickens, I found this fabulous, especially as Law, unlike Dickens, manages to paint semi-realistic female characters! Also, it's full of thought-provoking quotations like the one above, which are alarming in that stereotypes along these lines are things that many girls and women of our generation have heard said to them in some way or another.

Polly Elwin lives alone with her mother and is engaged to be married to Jos, a young carpenter who has moved from the country to secure work. However, this proves harder than he had originally realised, and soon his decreasing funds loses him the respect of Polly's mother and he is no longer allowed to live in the house. Becoming more and more penniless, Jos comes across many issues in 19th C London, amongst them the possibility of a richer suitor seeking out his Polly ...

This book examines the poverty in London in the late 19th Century, alongside the riots it induced. Told from the perspective of an innocent man who is simply unlucky, the reader really gets to feel how inescapably consuming the problem of unemployment in England during this time was, and how helpless so many men felt. There was a great emphasis on the idea that a man had to earn a certain amount to be "worthy" of marriage, and this is one of the few texts one could regard as feminist from this time which i read that examines how destructive the ideals surrounding marriage at this time could be to men as well as women. Indeed, even the riots and the poverty of London is not only shown through Jos, but the women forced to sell their newborns for a matter of pence to keep the rest of the family alive, and so on.

Have you read it? What do you think of 19th century books about marriage?


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