The Middling Sort: Commerce, Gender, and the Family in England, 1680-1780

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University of California Press, 1996 - History - 343 pages
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To be one of "the middling sort" in urban England in the late seventeenth or eighteenth century was to live a life tied, one way or another, to the world of commerce. In a lively study that combines narrative and alternately poignant and hilarious anecdotes with convincing analysis, Margaret R. Hunt offers a view of middling society during the hundred years that separated the Glorious Revolution from the factory age. Thanks to her exploration of many family papers and court records, Hunt is able to examine what people thought, felt, and valued. She finds that early capitalism and early modern family life were far more insecure than their "classical" models supposed.
Commercial needs and social needs coincided to a large extent. The family is central to Hunt's story, and she shows how financial struggles brought conflict, ambiguity, and tension to the home. She investigates the way gender intertwined with class and family hierarchy and the way many businesses survived as precarious successes, secured through the sacrifices made by female as well as male family members.
The Middling Sort offers a dynamic portrait of a society struggling to minimize the considerable social and psychic dislocation that accompanied England's launch of a full-scale market economy. To be one of "the middling sort" in urban England in the late seventeenth or eighteenth century was to live a life tied, one way or another, to the world of commerce. In a lively study that combines narrative and alternately poignant and hilarious anecdotes with convincing analysis, Margaret R. Hunt offers a view of middling society during the hundred years that separated the Glorious Revolution from the factory age. Thanks to her exploration of many family papers and court records, Hunt is able to examine what people thought, felt, and valued. She finds that early capitalism and early modern family life were far more insecure than their "classical" models supposed.
Commercial needs and social needs coincided to a large extent. The family is central to Hunt's story, and she shows how financial struggles brought conflict, ambiguity, and tension to the home. She investigates the way gender intertwined with class and family hierarchy and the way many businesses survived as precarious successes, secured through the sacrifices made by female as well as male family members.
The Middling Sort offers a dynamic portrait of a society struggling to minimize the considerable social and psychic dislocation that accompanied England's launch of a full-scale market economy.
  

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Contents

Capital Credit and the Family
20
A Generation of Vipers Prudential Virtue and the Sons of Trade
44
To Read Knit and Spin Middling Daughters and the Family Economy
71
Just in All Their Dealings Middling Men and the Reformation of Manners 16701739
99
EighteenthCentury Middling Women and Trade
123
The Bonds of Matrimony and the Spirit of Capitalism
145
Print Culture and the Middling Classes Mapping the World of Commerce
170
Private Order and Political Virtue Domesticity and the Ruling Class
191
Conclusion
214
ABBREVIATIONS USED IN THE NOTES
217
NOTES
219
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
289
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About the author (1996)

Margaret R. Hunt is Associate Professor of History and Women's and Gender Studies at Amherst College.

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