Bridget Jones versus Charles Pooter

Image from Diary of a Nobody

Completing the revisions for a paper on leisure in the London suburbs in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century has meant revisiting the secondary literature on class and the suburbs. I initially reviewed this literature a decade ago as part of the research for my doctoral thesis. Notwithstanding the publication of several new titles offering less pejorative accounts of suburban lives and lifestyles since my first research phase, the gaps in the literature remain considerable – and frustrating.

Bridget Jones' Diary

When is somebody going to publish a scholarly study of the London suburbs using primary sources to reconstruct the experiences of the lower-middle-class men and women living there? Or, expressed another way (and aside from a handful of journal articles and unpublished theses), why do we still know so little about the social lives and leisure pursuits of clerks, shop-workers and pupil teachers in the city’s suburbs in the late-nineteenth century? Census data, business and institutional records, letters, diaries and novels would all yield valuable information upon which a comprehensive and comparative account might be constructed; an account that would finally remove the need for general studies of the London suburbs to rely for ‘proof’ on a handful of novels and autobiographies. It would also ensure oral history evidence from the inter-war years wasn’t a-historically backdated to provide testimony or light and shade for earlier periods. Best of all, otherwise credible scholars would no longer feel obliged to reference the satirical diary of a made-up Islington clerk to illustrate or support their arguments. After all, imagine historians in 2113 relentlessly (sometimes exclusively) using the fictional experience of Bridget Jones to describe and represent the lives of single thirty-something women in late-twentieth century London…


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