Reading spaces and reading violence in nineteenth-century Britain

Wood, John Carter (2010). Reading spaces and reading violence in nineteenth-century Britain. Journal for the Study of British Cultures, 17(2) pp. 133–143.



Perceptions of violence played an important role in the efforts of middle-class Britons to understand their working- and lower-class compatriots in the nineteenth century, a process that required that the former also consider the spaces in which latter lived. This scrutiny of violence lower down the social scale also influenced the contours of middle-class identity. The efforts of the British middle classes in the nineteenth century to define themselves through a self-consciously ‘civilised’ rejection of ‘savage’ behaviour compelled them to investigate, describe and – typically – condemn the conduct of the working class and poor. But the customary violence that was maintained in the increasingly urbanised spaces of British life was not entirely decipherable to middle-class observers: their efforts to read those spaces were incomplete.

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