Pooterism or Partnership? Marriage and Masculine Identity in the Lower Middle Class, 1870–1920 Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • I spent the evening quietly with Carrie, of whose company I never tire. We had a most pleasant chat about the letters on ‘Is Marriage a Failure?’ It has been no failure in our case.This was the confident opening passage in Charles Pooter's entry for 2 November in George Grossmith's famous satire, The Diary of a Nobody, serialized in Punch in 1888. Simultaneously it celebrated the lower-middle-class husband's eager commitment to domesticity and marital harmony and acknowledged, in its reference to an equally popular contemporaneous correspondence series running in the Daily Telegraph, avid lower-middle-class engagement with routine popular press debates on marriage and domestic issues. The Diary's readers are invited to relish the irony in Charles's characteristic exaggeration of his domestic felicity, since they know that before long Carrie's patience will again be tried by another of his pretentious and interfering domestic schemes and ineffectual efforts to assert his household mastery. Such tensions in the Pooter marriage were emblematic of wider insecurities in the lower-middle-class identity.For over a century Charles Pooter's transparent claim to a gentility, independence, and mastery far above his actual station of a struggling suburban bank clerk has provided the dominant metaphor for lower-middle-class pretension, weakness, and diminished masculinity. His bogus authority was exposed as much at home as at his workplace, the bank, where he paraded as the pompous chief clerk. Indeed it was that theme of false authority, both in private and public, palpable even in his dress, that satirists delighted in puncturing. Grossmith was gratified by the range of the Diary's readership, especially among upper-class personalities.

publication date

  • July 1999