Fictionalised turning-points

In the 19th-century British novel, the trope of the exclusion of the working class from the classical cultural realm, especially from access to the ancient languages, became a standard feature of the genre, culminating in Thomas Hardy’s tragic Jude Fawley in Jude the Obscure (1895), locked out forever from studying Classics at Christminster (a fictionalised Oxford).103 The extent of the use of classical mythology by these writers, especially George Eliot, in relation to working-class characters, has attracted attention,104 but the importance of their engagement with real-life narratives they encountered in newspapers and periodicals less so. So steeped were most of these writers in classical mythology that sometimes they read a contemporary event through a classical lens, before integrating both into a new fiction: Hardy’s Tess in Tess of the D’Urbeivilles (1891) shares features with both Clytemnestra and with Elizabeth Martha Browne, a Dorset servant whom Hardy witnessed being hanged in 1856 for murdering her adulterous husband with a hatchet.10’ And these novelists certainly read published workingclass autobiographies, from which, along with their own life experiences, they absorbed the trope of the pivotal encounter with Classics.

Sometimes it is in a simple comparison of the sturdy, healthy physique of the stereotypical working-class man in comparison with the sickly classical scholar exemplified most famously by Edward Casaubon in Eliot’s Middleman!!.'06 At other times, it marks an important moment of recognition about the class status of the novel’s central figures or those with whom they interact. Dickens, notoriously conflicted about the desirability of classical education, probes the class system with a tragicomic scalpel in David Copperfield (1850). The envious Uriah sees David as a privileged young snob, but refuses to accept the offer of Latin lessons because he is ‘far too umble. There are people enough to tread upon me in my lowly state, without my doing outrage to their feelings by possessing learning’.107 Charles Kingsley’s Chartist tailor in Alton Locke (also 1850) does eventually improve his social situation as well as come to a greater understanding of his historical moment by teaching himself classical languages and literature with help of a Scottish working-class intellectual who is a thinly disguised Thomas Carlyle.

Stephen Smith, the autodidactic stonemason’s son in Thomas Hardy’s early novel A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873), catastrophically betrays his humble origins to the man he would like to make his father-in-law, the Reverend Swancourt, by his unconventional pronunciation of an Horatian ode. Stephen has been taught his Latin (and Greek) exclusively by written correspondence with a fellow of an Oxford college. Swancourt, an intellectual snob, concludes to Stephen,

you have a way of pronouncing your Latin which to me seems most peculiar. Not that the pronunciation of a dead language is of much importance; yet your accents and quantities have a grotesque sound to my ears. I thought first that you had acquired your way of breathing the vowels from some of the northern colleges; but it cannot be so with the quantities. What I was going to ask was, if your instructor in the classics could possibly have been an Oxford or Cambridge man?108

The moment that Stephen’s true class origins are betrayed in this momentous encounter, the reader knows he will never win the hand of the Reverend’s fair daughter. The trope of the narrative turning-point marked by the central figure’s relationship with Classics in his youth has moved from 18th-century fiction to 19th-century autobiography and back to fiction again.


  • 1 Tillett (1931) 76.
  • 2 Tillett (1931) 94.
  • 3 Tillett (1931) 81.

Tillett (1931) 271.

Quoted in Thompson (1988) 104.

Deutsch (1973) 15; see also Spacks (1976) 19.

Wallach (2006).

The Harmsworth Self-Educator: A Golden Key to Success in Life (1905-1907) was the brainchild of Arthur Henry Mee, a working-class Baptist from Nottinghamshire whose only education was at the Stapleford Board School until he was 14. The volume is dominated by the technological, domestic and commercial skills which will advance the careers of readers both female and male, and the message is reinforced by the frontispiece—Frederic Leighton’s mural for the Royal Exchange depicting Phoenicians bartering with ancient Britons, ‘The Birth of British Commerce’. But courses in both Latin and ancient Greek history are included (Mee [1906] 601-5, 753-5, 667-80, 772-5). He collaborated on this and his History of the World (1907), of which a substantial proportion is devoted to Greek and Roman history, with John Hammerton. Several other of his educational publications need urgent investigation by classical scholars.

Spacks (1976) 18; Calder (1972) 343.

Gusdorf (1980 [1956]) 37.

Olney (1972). For critical, structuralist and formalist theories of autobiography, see Nussbaum (1989) 4-10 and Anderson (2001).

Gray (1982).

Pascal (1960).

Barros (1998).

Starobinski (1980) 78.

Barros (1992) 1.

Barros (1992) 16.

Tillett (1931) 249.

Leatherland (1862) 9-13, 16. That he taught himself Greek is clear from p. 88. He subsequently became a somewhat half-hearted Chartist, but repudiated any radical tendencies entirely after reading Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France: see pp. 20-1.

Barker (1880) 63.

Newman (1994) 24.

See especially the comments of Vincent (2016).

Vincent (1981), Hackett (1985), Gagnier (1991) 138-70.

Harrison (1971) 35.

On which see epsecialy Swindells (1985) 115-84.

Quoted in Burnett (1974) 91. N.b. Bamford may well have confused Gibbon with Hume because he also read Hume’s.

Factory Girl (1853), especially 16-37.

Hall (1977) 39.

Seymour-Smith (1994) 39-40; see also Ebbatson (2010).

This story was first published in Fox (1930) 1-9 and is reproduced in Klaus (1993). Fox was a trade unionist and writer whose autobiography was entitled Smoky Crusade (1937).

Starr (1965); Delany (1969).

Schoenfield (2015) 95. On the late 18th- and early 19th-century emergence of the autobiography, and specifically the working-class autobiography, see also Yagoda (2009) 57-70.

English Review vol. 27, 501.

Disraeli (1809) 386.

Hall (2002) 36.

Rose (1994).

Hess (2005) 13.

Treadwell (2005) 3.

Lockhart (1827) 149; see Lee (2007) 1. On Lockhart’s class-based commentary on the middle-class ‘Cockney School* see Stead (2015a) and (2015b).

Cowper (1782).

See e.g. the 1828 etching ‘The March of Intellect’ by Henry Heath, in which a ragged dustman relaxes by reading a large book. V&A Museum no. E.87-1936. The joke persisted: see the satirical novel by Gideon (1845).

Moncrieff (1830) 12.

Moncrieff (1830) 16.

Anon. (1822) 742.

Schoenfield (2015) 96.

Swindells (1995) 7.

Anderson (2001) 104.

Beasley (1973) 161.

Beasley (1973) 160.

Goadby (1768) 50, 230, 293. See further below, pp. 308-9.

Pellow (1740).

Griffiths (1992); on 18th-century English biography in general, see Stauffer (1941).

Pérez Rodríguez (2003).

Scott (1801) 9.

Gibbon (1796).

Shumaker (1954) 27; see also Spacks (1976) 92-126.

Cartledge (1995) 134.

The first volume contained the Life of Theatre Impresario Colley Cibber, and the second, the Lives of David Hume, William Lilly and Voltaire: Autobiography (1826) vols. I, II.

Bain (1904) 104, 176, 217-18, 231-2.

See also Bain (1904) 212-13.

Grote (1880) and (1873). See Bain (1904) 310-11.

Bain (1865); Grote (1865).

Bain (1904) 4.

Bain (1904) 7-8.

Bain (1904) 29.

Bain (1904) 30-2.

This included, in addition to Latin and Greek languages and ancient history, Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyranus, Herodotus’ Histories, Demosthenes, Aeschines, Aristophanes, Andrew Dalzel’s Collectanea Craeca Majara, Thucydides, Virgil’s Aeneid book VI and Georgies, the Odes and Epistles of Horace, Cicero’s de Officiis and Livy.

Bain (1904) 43-51, 56, 63, 72.

Bain (1904) 65.

Bain (1904) 342-3.

Knockespock pamphlet in Thom (1841-1963) 1, 9-11.

Knokespock pamphlet and other notices in Thom (1841-1963). His poems were published as Thom (1880) and some are included in a popular collection of demotic north-eastern Scottish poetry edited by Walker (1894).

Claxton (1839) 34.

Claxton (1839) 34-5.

Bamford (1967 [1849]) 91.

Bamford (1967 [1849] 92.

Bamford (1967 [1849] 92-3.

Harrison (1998) 9.

Quoted in Burnett (1974) 312.

Arch (1986 [1898]) 5.

Arch (1986 [1898]) 25.

Arch (1986 [1898]) 9.

Aldred (1908) 28.

Aldred (1908) esp. 27-9, and in his journalism e.g. Aldred (1923).

Quoted in Aldred (1966) 6.

Aldred (1955-1963).

Aldred (1908) 28-9; Aldred (1955-1963) 66. On Martin see below pp. 319-21.

Aldred (1955-1963) 83.

Aldred (1955-1963) 42-3, 46-8.

Aldred (1908) 27.

Aldred (1923) 21.

Hawker (1919) 12.

Hawker (1919) 12.

Hawker (1919) 53 and 54-9.

Miller (1993 [1854]).

Milller (1993 ]1854]] 27

Miller (1993 [1854]) 181.

Miller (1993 [1854]) 44-6.

Miller (1993 [1854]) 155.

Miller (1993 [1854]) 237.

Miller (1993 [1854]) 231-2.

Miller (1993 [1854]) 351.

Hall (2008b) 386.

See Hall and Macintosh (2005) 182, 197, 331-2, 421, 454; Jenkyns (1980), 115-17, 125-7; Hurst (2006) 170-83.


Hale (2010). See Wright (1932) vol. I, 37 and Wilson (1925) 175-6: ‘Why employers are always pictured as large bulky men I’ve never been able to understand, because comparing the average Labour leader with employers, I think Labour could give points to Capitalists on the question of adipose tissue. Even I could turn the scale one time at sixteen stone, although it was well distributed*.

Dickens (1850) 169; see Hall (2015f), especially 107-8.

Hardy (1877) 46.

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