Rural England

  • Simon Dentith
Part of the Social History in Perspective book series (SHP)


In this chapter I consider one of the major faultlines that fissured the history of nineteenth-century England, the division between the urban and the rural. In particular, I will discuss the social and cultural life of rural England, and the continuing influence of this life throughout the century — this despite the fact that one of the most important transformations in the course of our period was from a predominantly rural to a predominantly urban and industrial country. The topic of this chapter, then, is both the culture of rural England, and the culture about rural England — much of which, it is important to note, is only to be understood as emerging not from the countryside but from the town.


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Eric Hobsbawm and George Rudé, Captain Swing (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1969).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    William Cobbett, Rural Rides (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1967), pp. 226–7.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    John Clare, The Parish; A Satire, edited by Eric Robinson (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1986), pp. 33–4.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    ‘The new-fashioned farmer’, in The Painful Plough, edited by Roy Palmer (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1973), p. 14.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Joseph Arch, From Ploughtail to Parliament: an Autobiography (The Cresset Library, London, 1986), p. 9.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Quoted in Pamela Horn, Labouring Life in the Victorian Countryside (Alan Sutton, Stroud, 1987), p. 59.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Fred Kitchen, Brother to the Ox: The Autobiography of a Farm Labourer (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1983), pp. 59–63, 148–51.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780–1850 (Hutchinson, London, 1987), passim.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘Frost at Midnight’ (1798).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    W. B. Yeats, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ (1893).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    See John Barrell, The Dark Side of the Landscape: The Rural Poor in English Painting 1730–1840 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1980).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    The various traditions of representations of rural life are discussed in Karen Sayer, Women of the Fields: Representations of Rural Women in the Nineteenth Century (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1995).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Oscar Wilde, ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’, in Plays, Prose Writings and Poems (Everyman’s Library, London, 1975), p. 281.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    George Eliot, ‘The Natural History of German Life’ (1856), in Selected Essays, Poems and Other Writings, edited by A. S. Byatt and Nicholas Warren (Penguin, London, 1990), p. 111.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    For a full account of late nineteenth-century theories of degeneration, see William Greenslade, Degeneration, Culture and the Novel 1880–1940 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Martin Wiener, English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850–1980 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1981)Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    See Ebenezer Howard, Garden Cities of Tomorrow (Attic Books, Builth Wells, 1985). (First published 1902.)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Simon Dentith 1998

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  • Simon Dentith

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