For Britons, the first decade of the 20th century was one of great change. Traditional concepts of age, class, and gender faced increasing challenge, and the response ultimately transformed British society. In this book, Paul Thompson analyzes the changes British society underwent during those years. Using hundreds of interviews with people who lived during that era, he seeks to chart the lives people lived during that time, and what those lives can tell us about the evolution of British society during those years.
To achieve this end, Thompson divides his study into four parts. The first covers what he terms the “dimensions of inequality,’ considering those elements of age, wealth, and circumstance that defined the lives of men and women during that time. The second section, titled “Edwardians”, recounts the lives of a dozen people from across the social stratum, ranging from the wealthy to those mired in poverty. From there he describes the social, economic, and political elements that were changing the lives of the Edwardians, from the suffrage movement to the onset of the First World War. Finally, he concludes with a look at how these transformative forces shaped the lives of the people, from their family dynamics to their quality of life.
Taken together, these elements combine to provide an illuminating portrait of life in Edwardian Britain. Through his judicious combination of interviews and statistics, Thompson provides, a well-rounded examination of the people of the time and the changes they underwent. What makes the book especially worthwhile is his use of the interviews to breathe life into the people, as the individuals he singles out give definition and form to what otherwise could be just an anonymous mass. It is this which has helped to make this path-breaking social history such an enduring work, one that rewards reading for anyone interested in the people of the era.