Cover of The Happiness of the British Working Class by Jamie L. Bronstein
The Happiness of the British Working Class
Jamie L. Bronstein


January 2023
300 pages.
from $30.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503630499
Paperback ISBN: 9781503633841
Ebook ISBN: 9781503633858

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For working-class life writers in nineteenth century Britain, happiness was a multifaceted emotion: a concept that could describe experiences of hedonic pleasure, foster and deepen social relationships, drive individuals to self-improvement, and lead them to look back over their lives and evaluate whether they were well-lived. However, not all working-class autobiographers shared the same concepts or valorizations of happiness, as variables such as geography, gender, political affiliation, and social and economic mobility often influenced the way they defined and experienced their emotional lives.

The Happiness of the British Working Class employs and analyzes over 350 autobiographies of individuals in England, Scotland, and Ireland to explore the sources of happiness of British working people born before 1870. Drawing from careful examinations of their personal narratives, Jamie L. Bronstein investigates the ways in which working people thought about the good life as seen through their experiences with family and friends, rewarding work, interaction with the natural world, science and creativity, political causes and religious commitments, and physical and economic struggles. Informed by the history of emotions and the philosophical and social-scientific literature on happiness, this book reflects broadly on the industrial-era working-class experience in an era of immense social and economic change.

About the author

Jamie L. Bronstein is Professor of U.S. and British History at New Mexico State University.

"This thoroughly researched and original work draws on a rich and fascinating corpus of working-class autobiographies. Jamie L. Bronstein's writing is gripping, intriguing, and entertaining, and scholars from a range of disciplines—and more general readers—will find much of interest here."

—Thomas Dixon, author of Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears

"A remarkable and pathbreaking study that uses the first-person testimony of working people to shed new light on the history of happiness. Weaving together poignant personal stories, the insights of emotions history, and incisive analysis, Jamie L. Bronstein offers a new and utterly fascinating life of Britain in the age of industrialization."

—Emma Griffin, author of Bread Winner: An Intimate History of the Victorian Economy

"[A] thought-provoking addition to the literature on working-class writing. Recommended."

—M. E. Burstein, CHOICE