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Roberts, Robert. The Classic Slum: Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century. Review

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In Robert Roberts' part-autobiographical, part recollection of village life, and part social history narrative, The Classic Slum, we see how life appeared in the slums of Salford during the early decades of the twentieth century. Roberts places all his knowledge within the context of the times, which saw people living out their days in "ghettos spawned by the industrial revolution" 1 in Britain. Essentially, Roberts' work shows that before the First World War, unskilled labouring classes in Britain's industrial slums resided in a working-class caste structure which enclosed them in a separate social world and left them without hope of ever going beyond it. This social world that Roberts depicts consisted of overlapping villages where industrial labourers, shopkeepers, and destitute people struggled to achieve and maintain respectability in the slums.2 The Classic Slum tries to deromanticize the Edwardian period; Roberts' asserts that "slum life was far from being the jolly hive of communal activity that some romantics have claimed."3 To understand how the British working class of the early twentieth century saw itself and why a social hierarchy emerged within their social world we must examine Roberts' book, which looks at the fine grained distinctions made among these poor slum residents, the characteristics which put a family on the top or bottom part of the stratification system, and their desires to be self supporting, a central social value of the proletariat. ...read more.


Upon reflection, possibly the significance of material things to the working class was a main reason why (besides a strong British identity) they never revolted. The capitalistic society of their day seems to have been important in obtaining possessions. Roberts' confirms this idea by saying that: Some historians have discerned... a proletariat ripe at last for revolution...I believe they have seriously misunderstood the mind and temper of the working men of the time. Whatever their quarrel...the ultra-patriotic mass remained intensely loyal to the nation and the system as a whole. 9 Roberts therefore argues that the working class embraced the national identity of Britain with vigour. They celebrated coronations and obsessed about the private lives of the Royal family.10 As for the favoured party, Roberts wrote that the working class preferred the Tories to the Liberals. According to Roberts, it seems that the people were unlikely to revolt and the upper classes did not expect them to, at least not in the early part of the twentieth century. In addition, Roberts wrote, "If however, one had any secret fear that the working classes might yet rise in 'unvanquishable number' it was overlain by the conviction that, put to patriotic test, they would do precisely what their masters ordered-a belief that the first world war fully bore out."11 In addition, the desire to be self supporting, a key idea for poor working class in these times, probably helped keep these people in their place. ...read more.


In Conclusion, Robert Roberts' book The Classic Slum, provides great insight into life during the later half of industrialization in Britain. This book enables an analysis of urban working class life because Roberts clearly identifies the caste system that existed amongst the proletarians in Salford and explains exactly what characteristics determined where a family would fall into the stratification system. As well, by comparing the differences in Roberts and Engels, Roberts' writing was insistently against the romantic myths of the proletariat. He saw the working class as docile as they accepted "a steady decline in living standards and went on wishing for nothing more than to be 'respectful and respected' in the eyes of men."17 Bibilography Engels, Friedrich. The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844. London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1892. Roberts, Robert. The Classic Slum: Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century.London: Penguin, 1971. 1 Robert Roberts, The Classic Slum: Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century (London: Penguin, 1971), 9. 2 Roberts, 30. 3 Roberts, 49. 4 Roberts, 37. 5 Roberts, 32. 6 Roberts, 32. 7 Roberts, 36. 8 Roberts, 55. 9 Roberts, 91. 10 Roberts, 182. 11 Roberts, 184. 12 Roberts, 185. 13 Roberts, 9. 14 Roberts, 28. 15 Roberts, 37. 16 Roberts, 24. 17 Roberts, 30. ?? ?? ?? ?? Boogerd 1 ...read more.

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