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This article is taken from PN Review 243, Volume 45 Number 1, September - October 2018.

An Affinity with Duck Andrew Hadfield
John Goodridge and Bridget Keegan (eds), A History of British Working Class Literature (Cambridge University Press) £79.99; Nicholas Cole and Paul Lauter, A History of American Working-Class Literature (Cambridge University Press), £79.99

THERE’S SUCH A FASCINATING STORY to tell about traditions of working-class literature and culture and so many questions to ask that it is a surprise the histories are not mapped out more often. Is ‘working-class literature’ imagined and conceived by the middle and upper classes and so has to be judged in terms of more general conceptions of literature? Or is it a canon apart which is written to be consumed by the class from which the producers have emerged and so has separate standards and rules? To what extent should we think about working­class literature in terms of popular culture? As the editors of the American volume point out, ‘working-class cannot simply’ be thought of like race and gender as it is ‘not usefully understood strictly as a category of identity’, one reason why there has been so much more academic work on those issues in relation to literature than class. Of course there are connections that need to be made. In her pithy and astute ‘Foreword’ to the British volume Donna Landry points out that, ‘The democratization of the literary marketplace that made professional literary livelihoods possible and allowed women to publish also benefitted the lower classes. Even the rural poor might occasionally find a voice through networks of patronage and publicity’. It is a pity that someone who has written ...

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