The Age of Decadence: Britain 1880 to 1914
By Simon Heffer
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