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When John met Benny: class, pets and family life in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain

Strange, Julie-Marie

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Histories of human-animal companionship have expanded in recent years but studies of British pet keeping prior to the twentieth century have been skewed towards the middle and upper classes. Such models risk establishing middle-class values and practices as the norm, creating the implicit assumption that working-class difference amounts to deviance or, that middle-class norms ‘trickle down’ the socio-economic scale eventually. While it is broadly acknowledged that working-class families kept birds or animals in domestic settings, there has been little consideration of what animal companionship meant in Victorian and Edwardian working-class family life or, more to the point, the ways in which pet keeping was classed and why this matters. Drawing on three principal methods, this essay explores what pet keeping meant in the financial, spatial and affective context of British working-class family life. It tries to understand how human family members could experience or, at least, articulate a sense of connection with animal members of the household. Resources of time, space and money shaped what pets were possible for people to keep, where they were kept and how relationships with those animals were forged. The choices people made in precarious or restricted material circumstances exposes the classed character of pet keeping and the ‘hierarchical entanglement’ of human-animal relations within a working-class context.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date May 13, 2021
Publication Date 2021
Deposit Date Jun 1, 2021
Publicly Available Date Jun 1, 2021
Journal The History of the Family
Print ISSN 1081-602X
Electronic ISSN 1873-5398
Publisher Taylor and Francis Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 26
Issue 2
Pages 214-235
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Copyright Statement
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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