Feeling Like a Clerk: The Emotional Economy of the Lower Middle Class in Dickens, Gissing, and Wells

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[Bloomington, Ind.] : Indiana University


"Feeling Like a Clerk" explores the emotional life of class status, what class identity feels like and how it is constituted through the emotions. It focuses specifically on the lower middle class, the clerk class, in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century and illustrates how a particular set of social emotions give the identity of the clerk its shape and definition within a larger set of prescriptions, prohibitions, and influences during the Victorian period. The study suggests that the "rise of the clerk" in nineteenth-century Britain can be used as a model for understanding the modern complexities of class as lived experience. This is particularly true in the case of the great fiction writers of bourgeois life, whose texts represent various forms of upward and downward mobility as they themselves climbed out of the cramped parsons' cottages, dingy rented rooms, and stuffy offices of the lower middle class. The male clerk, in particular, was subject to a bewildering unpredictability when it came the uneven distribution of emotions in the popular imagination. Provisional forms of masculinity and puzzling subordinate responses to social imperatives are the result of these emotional inequities. When given the opportunity to develop refined sensibilities that mark him as bourgeois, the lower middle-class man confronts the fact that his new companions only make him feel class more acutely, and he often yearns for a home to which he cannot return. By paying attention to these contradictions, "Feeling Like a Clerk" uncovers a moment when class becomes more deeply psychological and internalized, when new, more diminutive emotions take the place of the classic passions of class struggle.


Thesis (Ph.D.) - Indiana University, English, 2009


Clerks, Emotions, Nineteenth-century, Novel, Social class, Victorian



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Doctoral Dissertation