The Middle Class: A History by Lawrence James - review by Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson

They Know Their Place

The Middle Class: A History

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Fifty years ago, General Franco used to say to English visitors: ‘What I want to introduce into Spain is what you already have, a large middle class. Here we have too little between the landowners on the one side, and the peasants and workers on the other. Just you wait! We will create a Spanish version of your middle class!’ The half-century has passed. The Spanish middle class has come into being, though whether it has benefited Spain in all the ways Franco expected is doubtful. But what, in the meantime, has happened to the English middle class he so much admired?

What indeed. The answer is not the prime purpose of Lawrence James’s book, which has a much wider scope: to survey the origins of the English middle class in the mid fourteenth century and to trace its development up to the present. When I was a boy in the 1930s,

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