THE DISPOSSESSED: An Aspect of Victorian Social History by Barbara Kerr

THE DISPOSSESSED: An Aspect of Victorian Social History

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The Dispossessed is not, as one might expect, the story of the hand-loom weavers, agricultural laborers or village craftsmen left marooned by the tidal wave of industrialism. Rather, Kerr has patched together the history of a large and prosperous middle-class Anglo-Indian family, the Thornhills, whose fortunes gradually ebbed over a period of three generations. Just why is never made clear, but the sons and grandsons of Cudbert Thornhill, ""The Old Director"" who made a name and a fortune in India never achieved his eminence. Between 1850 and 1880 his descendants were scattered to India, America and New Zealand -- several of them unsuccessfully raising sheep in the wilderness. Though Kerr admits that some of the Thornhill progeny suffered from ""lassitude"" she evidently shares their upper-class nostalgia for the good old days of privilege when the family was united at Lyston Hall and equipped with plenty of servants: there is a strong implication that after 1850 opportunities were drying up and there was very little scope for the young and ambitious. Throughout Kerr's accounts of the summer holidays and Continental travels of earlier, more affluent days there is a sense of regret for the despoiled villages around London which like South Lambeth were becoming ugly suburbs or teaming slums. This is however a highly idiosyncratic view of the mid-19th century for, while the Thornhills were bemoaning the ""general cussedness of the upside-down world,"" scores of families like them were rising in the social hierarchy and one is left with the suspicion that the Thornhills lacked either talent or a willingness to work. It's difficult to keep track of them all -- cousins and brothers, nephews and nieces and the overall effect is murky at best. Compared to the ragged factory children and the starving Irish refugees one can hardly call the Thornhills dispossessed and it's hard to work up much sympathy for their not-so-dreadful plight.

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 1974
Publisher: St. Martin's Press