Last night, I had another look at Rita Felski’s 2000 PMLA on why academics don’t talk about the lower middle class. I looked it up because I had misremembered it being about the middlebrow, which it kind of is, I guess. As I’m going blind reading these periodicals, I’m realizing how significant the lower middle class demographic was, and how it’s kind of, but not really reflected in the books we study. (Other random class note: poetry is kind of more highbrow than fiction–I’m looking at you, Mr. Browning–but it’s also more populist–I’m finding quite a lot of working-class poets, and there are a bunch of memoirs too, but novels? haven’t encountered one yet.) I went into the periodicals project hoping that I’d get a sense of the different political orientation of the different mags, but now I’m thinking that class orientation is more important. I looked at two weeklies today, the London Journal and the Athenaeum. The latter’s five times more expensive than the former. (But it’s also twice as long–it’s not very accurate to say that Dickens was paid by the word, but you there’s some truth in saying that Victorians thought about text prices in cost per page–so a twenty-number beast like Pickwick or Little Dorrit would cost ten shillings less than a mere triple decker–what a bargain!) Anyway, everything that falls in between–maybe even just price-wise–goes for a lower middle class audience. Chambers’, Eliza Cook’s Journal, and Household Words all appealed to a lower middle class audience. Here’s where my definition gets circular: the working classes could afford these (might be a bit more than the penny mags like the LJ), but they’ve got a very educationy, moral improvement, useful knowledge feel to them. (yes i realize i’m sounding very educationed right now.) Which leads me back to Felski–her beef with most academic work on the working class is that the idea of lower middle class respectibility, social aspiration, cleanliness, is totally ignored. I’d say that it’s pretty invisible in current cultural representations as well–lower middle class is one of the few groups that it’s still okay to laugh at. The respectable upper working class in mid-Victorian England, though, was culturally central, and far from being reactionary, it was the most progressive class. Coming out of the class wars of the first half of the nineteenth century, education–moral and intellectual improvement–emerged as the solution to lower class immiseration. So, the famed Victorian faith in progress placed a fairly large emphasis on improving the minds and morals of the upper working class/emergent lower middle class.

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