Gracechurch Street and radical politics
Posted by Helen on October 07, 1997 at 10:38:23:
A long time ago, I posted a short version of this on the P&P board, and Caroline asked me to write some more for Regency - now, finally, I manage to have the time!
My summer job has consisted of cataloguing some old books in my college library, and amongst them was a collection of political pamphlets from 1800-1830, a period when some of the main political issues in Britain were about social reform, leading up to the 1832 Reform Bill, and the abolition of slavery. These pamphlets were originally all the property of an MP, who bound them into volumes, and there follow various things I discovered and my thoughts on them:
1. They're all mini-essays, the kind which now would be found in magazines. But these would not be accessible to every member of the family - in this case, they were often posted directly to the male head of the family. So perhaps this relates to the lack of the broad social picture in JA's novels - that she wouldn't have had access to the in-depth discussions of social matters, or even been aware of, for example, the issues of social injustice which lay behind the riots of the period.
Most of the other books in this collection are still in Latin, and I think this is indicative of the contemporary situation - again, a whole dimension of educated society which JA would have been excluded from.
2. This is what I put originally on the P&P board: one of these pamphlets was printed in Gracechurch street, home of the Gardiners, which really made me realise what lies behind a lot of the comment in P&P about where they live: it's not a residential zone, but contains places of business. Mr. Gardiner would not have disassociated himself from trade, as the Bingley family had done by moving to the country, but he lived in a place where people would be constantly reminded that he was not a gentleman of leisure.
3. This pamphlet is in fact about the contemporary political/social situation: it urges Britain not to be permanently in the grip of aristocrats, concerned only with traditional land-owning/power relationships, saying that to survive in the modern world of the 19th century, the country needs to focus on its trading classes. So Gracechurch Street isn't just about the Gardiners being middle class, but about the fact that this middle class is becoming more strident in its demands for power, becoming more important than the old landed gentry as represented by the likes of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
There is more, but I'll put it in a seperate post.
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