"On the threshold of manhood": Working-Class Religion and Domesticity in Victorian Britain and Canada


  • Nancy Christie


Recent studies indicate that records of church membership are unreliable as a barometer to measure the religiosity of Victorian working-class people. Specifically working-class forms of religious practice, when combined with working-class views of masculinity, tended to privilege the domestic space rather than church membership as the primary site of Christian experience. The religious diary and family correspondence of Frederick and Fanny Brigden, both working-class Londoners, reveal Brigden’s own version of domesticated religiosity and his conception of respectable working-class masculinity. His life-long obsession with temperance, thrift, self-help, and religion was neither imposed by nor borrowed from the values of the dominant classes, but grew directly from his experience of the inequalities and vicissitudes of working-class life. As the Brigdens’ example shows, working-class families’ conceptions of domesticity did not merely mimic those of bourgeois ruling elites, but flowed from their own interpretations of religion and their own strategies for survival.