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Everyday Violence in Britain, 1850-1950: Gender and Class. (Reviews).

Everyday Violence in Britain, 1850-1950: Gender and Class. Edited by Shani D'Cruze (Harlow: Longman-Pearson Education, 2000. 233 pp.).

Although the essays in Everyday Violence cover a wide range of subjects, they are coherently held together by recurring interests and interpretive assumptions. One of these is the notion of the "everyday," which, according to Shani D'Cruze's introduction, "locates violence, or the possibility of violence, at the core of people's daily lives" (12). Thus, the book deals with small-scale, interpersonal violence "which eventuates out of people's ordinary, routine and mundane social interaction" (1) and it "fixes the location of such violence in familiar places: the home and the neighbourhood, the pub or the workplace; the street or the back yard" (11). That approach, applied in varying measures throughout, proves its potential here as a useful tool for the development of historical violence studies and widens our perspective on what violence "is" and where it is "located" in social and cultural contexts. In broadening "violence" beyond its legal definitions (which, as some of the essays in this collection emphasi ze, were themselves subject to change over time), the connections between criminal violence and other aspects of social life--for example, marriage, youth, masculine identity, suburban living, childbirth, drinking and socializing--become more apparent.

"Everyday life" is intersected by numerous other conceptual themes; in this collection, as suggested by its title, the emphasis is upon class and gender. The book focuses almost exclusively upon working-class violence, or perceptions thereof, while eschewing a simple duality of social control and social resistance (4). Its gender interests revolve around two main issues: first, the ways that gendered expectations shaped attitudes to violence and, second, the interactions among gender, class and violence in the fashioning of personal identity. Violence is largely depicted as a product of cultural and social interaction, gender and class differences, and distributions of state and economic power.

The twelve essays are grouped in three thematic sections that respectively address the "uses," "regulation" and "representations" of violence. In practice, such divisions break down and their interconnections are apparent in most of the book's component parts. Anna Clark argues that innovative nineteenth-century domestic ideals, while they might have improved women's lives in some ways, did not prevent spousal violence, "and may even have excused it" (28). John E. Archer explores several links between masculinity and violence, emphasizing the elements of ritual and national identity inherent in particular masculine cultures of aggression. Margaret L. Arnot considers newborn child murder, pointing to the specific Victorian contexts of the crime while also using modern psychological knowledge to shed light on trans-historical problems in infanticide. Andrew Davies provides a focused study of Manchester youth gangs while giving new insight into the complex and active role of female gang members. Kim Stevenson fo cuses on rape, the generally held belief that women made untrustworthy witnesses, and the euphemistic codes that surrounded rape trials and their reporting. Joanne Jones presents patterns in the depiction of sex crimes in local (Manchester) press accounts, emphasising the prevalence and importance of depictions of mainly working-class (sexual) violence to a largely middle-class audience. Louise Jackson provides an intriguing analysis of women professionals' (mainly doctors and police officers) involvement in treating female crime victims in the interwar period. Jacky Burnett focuses on the contribution of the Women's Cooperative Guild to the divorce law debate, particularly its efforts to give voice to victimized women with few other avenues to be heard in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Judith Rowbotham looks at popular fiction writing as a vehicle promoting stereotyped attitudes toward violence. Julie English Early uses a famed murder case in order to explore Edwardian uncertainties about the suburbs, the relationship between narratives of violence and class (particularly regarding the lower middle class), and the instabilities inherent therein. Lucy Bland similarly uses an illustrative murder trial to highlight the intersection of gender and violence with "Orientalism," focusing particularly on discourses of ethnic difference, sexual perversity and fears of miscegenation. Catherine Euler evaluates particular strategic uses of language by feminists while critiquing some standard historiography for underestimating the "agency" enabled by such strategies.

Two particular strengths of this collection are its creative uses of the concept of "everyday" violence and its explorations of the ways that narratives create and maintain cultures of violence. Furthermore, several essays' focus on northern cities (especially Manchester), usefully complements the London bias of much previous crime history. The book is at its best in those essays that push the conceptual or topical boundaries of violence history, such as Davies's exploration of women's active participation in gang violence, Arnot's psychological analysis of child murderers and Jackson's examination of women professionals' participation in the regulation of violence. Early's depiction of the perceived "worrisome terra incognita" (174) of the suburbs, Archer's linking of violence to masculinity and national identity, and Bland's recounting of the influence of "Orientalism" on a murder trial all make the point that the perception of violence is shaped by a variety of other concerns. Some other material, while re maining more within established conceptual and topical channels, very capably adds to our knowledge of violence and raises interesting questions. While not marring the book's formidable achievement, the promising balance between male and female gender issues in the first part falters in the second section, concerned with the "regulation" of violence. A more elaborate exploration of masculinity and the regulation of violence among men (hinted at by Davies and Archer) would have perhaps been welcome.

The essays are tightly focused and engaging, making the collection ideal for use in undergraduate introductions to crime and social history courses. Some essays engagements with cutting-edge concerns in the history of violence recommends their inclusion in more advanced courses, and they will certainly become important parts of the debates among violence specialists. Everyday Violence is thus an indispensable work for the understanding of British social history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and of violence history more generally.
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Author:Wood, J. Carter
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
Words:992
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