1st Edition

The Eclipse of 'Elegant Economy'
The Impact of the Second World War on Attitudes to Personal Finance in Britain

ISBN 9781138249905
Published October 9, 2016 by Routledge
262 Pages

USD $59.95

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Book Description

Elizabeth Gaskell might have been amused to learn that the Victorian 'elegant economy' she mocked so poignantly in Cranford reached a new apogee in the mid-twentieth century and endured the invasion of its precise antithesis, 'conspicuous consumption'. For Britons of all classes the years of austerity during and after the Second World War were years of disorientation and fears of resurgence of the worst of the interwar decades. They had never had more money in their pockets or less material things on which to spend it. Many took refuge in the 'elegant economy', its creator dubbed 'a sort of sour-grapeism, which made us very peaceful and satisfied'. Constrained by rationing, manufacturing and import controls personal finance could only be disbursed on non-material things - sometimes wisely, sometimes pragmatically and sometimes by throwing all caution to the wind. Here for the first time is the history of these diverse reactions explored through Britain's metamorphosis from austerity to affluence, with consumerism seen through fresh eyes. Today political commentators constantly warn of the encroachment of austerity. This book is a timely reminder of the years of real austerity in Britain: when regardless of financial status everyone suffered its tribulations: when a 'sub-prime' mortgage was unimaginable: when abuse of expense claims by public figures was unthinkable: and when no one dared utter a word critical of their bank or its manager.

Table of Contents

Contents: Foreword, Lord Hennessy; Prologue; Introduction; Fleeting crescent (1918 to 1939 and before); Petrified 'capitalists' (the Second World War); Short dawn (1945 to 1947) First quartile (1948 to 1951) Dividend-seeking 'socialists' (the Co-operative Movement) Spreading shadow (1951 to 1957); Total eclipse and corona (1957 and beyond) Selected bibliography; Index.

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Dr Martin Cohen, Queen Mary University of London, UK.


'There has been extensive work on consumption, but very little on how people use or think about money. Accordingly, for anyone who wants to understand about the development of Britain's post-war consumer society this is the book.' Peter Catterall, Queen Mary University of London, UK 'An unusual premise [...] forms the backdrop for some interesting discussion. Cohen’s monograph sits somewhere between a conventional economic history and a cultural history of attitudes towards personal finance.' Twentieth Century British History 'This is an excellent, readable book, which draws on a wide range of archival material, in particular, bank and savings archives, as well as the mass observation archives at the University of Sussex... a must read for those interested in personal finance and for those wishing to study the unique case study of Britain in austerity during and after World War II.' Enterprise and Society