Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Dr. Richard A. Rempel


This dissertation examines the means in which an identity was constructed by male clerks of the lower middle class through shared work, social and cultural experiences during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Because clerks displayed characteristics of the middle and working classes, historians have not fully explored the common culture that bound them together. While individual clerks varied significantly in incomes, socio-economic backgrounds and job descriptions, they had a set of attributes that helped them create a common cultural experience. This study explores the culture of clerks through work and office experiences; educational and commercial training; social activities in London; the discourses of self-improvement and respectability; and the culture of the suburban lifestyle. Although clerks failed to realize their ambition of becoming substantive members of London's middle class, they did construct a distinct identity. An identity built neither on reaction nor agitation, but on work, masculine and social experiences, dominated by an ideology of self-improvement. This ideology of self-improvement served as the central means clerks used to counter their material anxieties and an office culture based on deference and docility. In addition, this dissertation also explores the interaction between this identity and the Victorian and Edwardian "visions" and portrayals of the clerk in the press, social criticism and literature. This portrayal by the middle classes which clerks aspired to join, was overwhelmingly negative and condescending. Its veracity served to conceal the various positive aspects of the clerk's identity from contemporary opinion and, unfortunately, later scholarship.

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