The Age of Deca­dence: Bri­tain 1880 to 1914

By Si­mon Hef­fer

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - REVIEWS -

Ran­dom House Books, 912 pages, £30 Si­mon Hef­fer’s new book is a so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural his­tory of late Vic­to­rian and Ed­war­dian Bri­tain, care­fully ex­am­in­ing the con­tra­dic­tions of the pe­riod. While the mid­dle classes were on the rise and there was an in­crease in leisure time for skilled work­ers, con­di­tions had changed lit­tle for the ab­ject poor since the be­gin­ning of Vic­to­ria’s reign. For the aris­toc­racy, a se­ries of high-pro­file scan­dals be­gan to re­duce their in­flu­ence in so­ci­ety.

The story is told through the key politi­cians and per­son­al­i­ties of the day from Gladstone, Asquith and Churchill through to Wilde, Shaw and Mrs Pankhurst. There’s lots of de­tail about the machi­na­tions of gov­ern­ment be­hind key is­sues such as Home Rule, and if you’re more in­ter­ested in the lives of or­di­nary peo­ple, it may not be the book for you.

But if you’ve ever won­dered how re­forms such as old age pen­sions and uni­ver­sal ed­u­ca­tion came about, this book will tell you – and much more be­sides. For ex­am­ple, there are some in­ter­est­ing chap­ters on the be­gin­nings of pro­tec­tion for chil­dren, women’s rights and hous­ing re­forms. At 900 pages, the book is a weighty tome but it is highly read­able and, with its com­pre­hen­sive in­dex, easy to dip into. Michelle Higgs is an au­thor spe­cial­is­ing in so­cial his­tory and fam­ily his­tory

The Home Rule de­bate of 1912

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