Brawn and bravery
Glorifying the working body
in Manliness in Britain, 1760–1900
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This chapter examines representations of working men’s bodies. The first section explores the nobility assigned to the muscular body, interrogated through the imagined blacksmith and navvy. The next addresses the role of heroism, another appealing quality, primarily through miners, firemen, and lifeboat men. Such strong and appealing working men offered a more comforting vision of working-class masculinity than that in which such men were politically and socially dangerous. Kindness was attributed to both brawn and brave stereotypes, taming the muscular and reckless body. This was not working men’s only function for a middle-class audience, since the same combination of alluring physical and emotional qualities also rendered the working-class male body desirable as a manly ideal. The chapter then shows that the working classes created and disseminated their own highly emotional and material manifestation of working-class manliness on the material culture of trade unions and friendly societies. However, the emotions associated with them were subtly different and deployed in different ways. For middle-class men, the attractive working man was reassuring and admirable, for working-class men he was a measure of their right to be included in the civic polity.

Manliness in Britain, 1760–1900

Bodies, emotion, and material culture

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