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Response to Review no. 330

I would like to thank John Lowerson for his kind words on my book. I add just a couple of further comments.

The timespan of the book could have been helped by a clearer title. I wanted to call it ‘The Struggle for Class’ and subtitle it in the early nineteenth century, but publishers don’t like puns. The fifty or so years around 1800 was the frame in which I wrote, which is why neither Middlemarch nor the Barchester novels make it for citation. Just thinking of them now reminds me of the immense temptations of literature, evident even in the references I make to Jane Austen and the ‘silver fork’ novelists. Why would a historian bother to write at all, when such records live on?

Re: The Footman’s Handbook and the influence of upper servants on taste and practice. I don’t believe such books were intended exclusively (if at all) for ‘for footmen’s industrial reading’ (a nice phrase), but rather for those who aspired to live as if they possessed footmen. Another illustration in the book comes from the 1832 Servants’ Guide and depicts the ranks of coronets, mitres and helmets of the English aristocracy; it advises ‘a knowledge of their distinctions will be useful to the reader’, as if a coronet-capped Earl were to be expected at the front door any one of these days. Knowledge of heraldic orders was yet another of the pods of specialised knowledge which aspirant people employed to bolster their sense of distinction.

Lowerson raises a number of further topics that could have a place in my book; I wish I’d thought of them. The question of French influence and contemporary practice is very tantalising. What really interests me now is the other side of the coin of gentility: the culture of self-expression, bohemianism and alternative lifestyles.