The forgotten story of how ordinary families managed financially in the Victorian era—and struggled to survive despite increasing national prosperity
“A powerful story of social realities, pressures, and the fracturing of traditional structures.”—Ruth Goodman, Wall Street Journal
“Deeply researched and sensitive.”—Simon Heffer, Daily Telegraph, "Best History Books of 2020"
Nineteenth century Britain saw remarkable economic growth and a rise in real wages. But not everyone shared in the nation’s wealth. Unable to earn a sufficient income themselves, working-class women were reliant on the ‘breadwinner wage’ of their husbands. When income failed, or was denied or squandered by errant men, families could be plunged into desperate poverty from which there was no escape.
Emma Griffin unlocks the homes of Victorian England to examine the lives – and finances – of the people who lived there. Drawing on over 600 working-class autobiographies, including more than 200 written by women, Bread Winner changes our understanding of daily life in Victorian Britain.
Emma Griffin is professor of modern British history at the University of East Anglia. She is the author of five books, including Liberty's Dawn and Blood Sport.
“[A] compelling re-evaluation of the Victorian economy. . . . Bread Winner is a book with the personal and domestic at its heart, telling a powerful story of social realities, pressures, and the fracturing of traditional structures. . . . The great strength of this book is the assurance with which the author moves from the intimate to the general and back again, using eyewitness recollections as a lens through which the reader can examine a society in flux.”—Wall Street Journal
“Deeply researched and sensitive without being sentimental.”—Simon Heffer, Daily Telegraph, “Best History Books of 2020”
“There is much that is fascinating in Bread Winner about the choices imposed on and faced by those entering the labour market.”—Cormac Ó Gráda, Familia
“Bread Winner is constructive for its use of personal narratives as historical evidence that can generate new interdisciplinary methods of interpretation in economic history.”—Sarah Winter, Victorian Studies
Shortlisted for the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing
“Griffin’s pioneering research shifts our attention from the generalities of economic growth to the realities of lived experience. Her humane and human book is an outstanding contribution to the history of Victorian Britain.”—Martin Daunton, author of Wealth and Welfare
“Bread Winner is a love affair with life-writing. The extraordinary voices of the poor, the ambitious, the mobile and the utterly insignificant of Victorian Britain are brought together to tell us how they got by in a precarious world.”—Lucy Delap, author of Knowing Their Place
“A sobering—and important—account of the human dimensions of economic life. . . . Makes a powerful case for why attention to the family is indispensable to any understanding of the Victorian economy.” —Deborah Cohen, author of Family Secrets
“Griffin’s startling re-evaluation of the Victorian family, powered by the voices and experiences of the poor themselves, is both rigorous and moving in its human detail and searching analyses.”—Peter Mandler, author of The English National Character
Sign up for updates on new releases and special offers
Our website offers shipping to the United States and Canada only. For customers in other countries: