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Writing the Lives of the English Poor, 1750s-1830s


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About the Author

Steven King is professor of economic and social history at the University of Leicester.


"Steven King is one of a number of people who have for many years done the hard labour of trawling for and transcribing the scrappy - 'fugitive' is the word he uses, with its connotations of elusiveness, oppression and secrecy - letters from and about the poor, attempting to recover 'the pauper experience' by charting the process of requesting relief. King's study of these letters leads him to conclude that the timing of mass literacy, the democratisation of writing, has to be pushed back to the 1820s at least, though that still seems late when you consider that in 1740 Samuel Richardson constructed an entire novel in letters supposedly written by a 16-year-old servant girl, Pamela, to her impoverished parents." London Review of Books
"In this wonderfully rich and scholarly book, Steven King provides a highly original approach to understanding the Old Poor Law from the bottom up based on an extraordinary excavation of an entirely new corpus of poor people's letters originating from a wide range of geographical settings. King maps out an entirely new corpus of evidence with which to explore a broad range of historical topics, from the emergence of eloquence and the spread of literacy to the experience of poverty and the provision of welfare. It is a book about letter writing as well as letter writers and will appeal to scholars across a wide disciplinary spectrum from literary studies to welfare historians. Above all, by using the words of the poor themselves, King amply demonstrates deep empathy as well as insight to the experience of poverty in eighteenth and nineteenth-century England and Wales." David Green, King's College London
"Over the last two decades, Steven King has been a leading figure in the social history of poverty and poor relief in England during the industrial revolution. With this book, we enter an entirely new era of the old master project of writing social history from below." Thomas Sokoll, FernUniversitat in Hagen
"King has mastered an enormous database, and his analysis of it is thorough and imaginative. An impressive achievement." Martyn Lyons, University of New South Wales
"Focusing in detail and through imaginative comparative analyses on documents that have thus far only been researched in regional case studies, Writing the Lives of the English Poor, 1750s-1830s makes an innovative contribution to the history of poverty a

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