ABSTRACT

In his seminal Family Structure in Nineteenth-Century Lancashire (1971), which is largely based on computer analysis of census data, Michael Anderson has rightly questioned the validity of many of the sources historians have traditionally relied upon to recapture family life among the Victorian working classes. ‘Impressionistic work by middle-class persons,’ works in the genre of Kay, Gaskell, Mayhew and Engels, he wrote, tend to ‘emphasize the more remarkable features of family life … without any attempt to assess quantitatively either their frequency, or their distribution over the population as a whole.’ 1 Anderson’s criticism is well-taken, for generalizations abound concerning ‘stern’ Victorian parents and ‘repressed’ children, ‘large’ families, or ‘numerous’ servants, arrived at without any effort at quantification or sufficient caution about typicality. The new surge of interest in family history and awareness of the strictures of Anderson and other historical sociologists will, one hopes, lead to more precise and rigorous analysis. But, unfortunate as it may be, not all aspects of family life are subject to quantification and it would be a sad loss if social historians, intimidated by the new emphasis upon statistical analysis and paradigms, turned away from the study of such intangibles and immeasurables as love, happiness, respect, leisure, personal relationships or sexual practices and attitudes or many other aspects of family life that do not lend themselves readily to measurement.