A Sense of Their Duty. Middle-Class Formation in Victorian Ontario Towns. (Book Reviews).
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Author:||Wolfe, Jeanne M.|
|Publication:||Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2002 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774|
|Issue:||Date: Summer, 2002 Source Volume: 11 Source Issue: 1|
|Topic:||NamedWork: A Sense of Their Duty. Middle-Class Formation in Victorian Ontario Towns (Book)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Holman, Andrew C.|
Holman, Andrew C.
A Sense of Their Duty. Middle-Class Formation in Victorian Ontario Towns.
Montreal and Kingston: McGill Queen's University Press, 2000.
xxii+ 243 pp.
This book explores the nature of the middle class in two Ontario towns, Gait and Goderich, between the 1840s and the 1890s. Middle class, for Holman, is a self-identifying group which in the early days derived a sense of status from Old World social scales, but as time progressed became a distinctive, easily recognizable group, which derived identity from the local context. The middle class was largely defined by its occupations, namely business, the professions and government service, and developed its own set of customs, values and mores. Members of the working class, on the other hand, were employees or piece workers, and toiled with their hands, not their brains. The elite, or gentry, were not numerous, and were seen as rich and idle, drawing their upper-class distinction from ties to European nobility.
The book is divided into two sections, each with three chapters. Part I looks at the structure of work, enterprise and authority, while Part 2, entitled "Erecting a moral order, developing class community," focuses on the social outcomes. The first chapter describes the development of Galt and Goderich, which received their first railways in 1854 and 1858 respectively. While both had good starts in the development of manufacturing, Galt soon forged ahead, a fact largely attributed to the entrepreneurial energies of local merchants. In Goderich, despite a harbour and large salt deposits, industry was sleepy, and it was the professionals who assumed leadership roles in the community. Nevertheless, Holman shows how, in both towns, common concerns of business people, such as fire protection, policing, access to credit, and labour relations, caused the formation of bonds between them that laid the basis of class solidarity.
Chapter two looks at the roles of professionals, especially lawyers, doctors, and clergymen, in cultivating strong ties to each other, and again contributing to the development of a middle class identity. The third chapter deals with the ever-growing white collar workers, again a group whose work underwent profound change in the second half of the 19th century, as the telegraph, bookkeeping and typewriters proliferated. Clerking, either in a business, as an apprentice to a professional, or in a government service was seen as one step towards bigger things, until, of course, the entry of female labour.
The second half of the book treats the development of the values of the middle class and its quest for authority. In both Galt and Goderich, the middle class controlled municipal government by the 1860s, which ensured a dominant role in matters of public morality. Chapter four examines the growth of voluntary organizations, the training grounds for political and social leadership. These included political, professional, sports, leisure, music, drama, horticultural, debating, self improvement and fraternal clubs. At the same time, various charity organizations were founded. While women were excluded from many of the other associations, they were the most active in the various benevolent societies and church groups concerned with relief for the poor.
Temperance reform became such a leading cause that the whole of Chapter five is devoted to this issue (Galt had four and Goderich two temperance societies by mid century). Attempts to pass prohibitory legislation were unsuccessful, but rules limiting opening hours for taverns were gradually introduced. Towards the end of the century, drinking became redefined as a societal evil, and the membership of temperance societies changed to include those most afflicted; women, children and adolescents.
Chapter six shows how the process of class formation took place not only in the public arena, but also in family life. Family and children were central, but the realms of men and of women were separate. Habits of good manners, courteous behaviour, personal deportment (including clean, neat hair and fingernails), good clothing, and orderly houses and yards were seen as essential to success.
The concluding epilogue returns to theory: three points are made. First, it is justly claimed that social theory is a legitimate guide to historical reality. Second, it is reiterated that distinctions in class formation are a product of the local arena, in this case urbanizing Ontario. Third, the distinctive pattern is shaped at first by workplace identities, which were the basic building blocks for the establishment of the middle class.
The book is clear, extremely well written and a good read. It clearly portrays the formation and evolution of the middle class, and shows how businessmen, professionals and white collar workers, through their work and interests in municipal government, voluntary associations, reform movements, and family, set standards for respectable behaviour and comportment, many of which persist to this day.
The main shortcoming of the book is for readers interested in the spatial structure of urban areas. The descriptions of Gait and Goderich are brief, and the only map is of Goderich from Beldon's Atlas. The middle class clearly controlled the siting of factories, as well as public edifices. They were likely responsible for building most of the working class housing, and through the town council, most of the infrastructure. To what extent did city form reflect or shape their beliefs? Further, education gets little mention in this analysis. What was the influence of teachers in propagating middle class values? (Teachers are not mentioned as an influential group as are the lawyers, doctors and clergy. We know they were poorly paid. Were they lower-middle class?).
Nevertheless, this is an excellent book, of interest not only to social historians, but also to readers wanting to understand economic and social change, and our Victorian legacy.
|Gale Copyright:||Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.|