This work is clearly a labour of love for the Editor, Robert Whelan. The tenor of the entire collection is one of undisguised admiration for Octavia Hill and her work, and clearly regards her position as one which is very apt for the present.
Readers should be aware of the context within which this collection was put together. There are two strands which together promote this restoration of Hill's essays and letters. In the first place there were the reforms to the public housing market instigated by the Conservative governments of Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Major whereby sitting tenants were offered the prpoerty they were renting at a subsidised sale price thus allowing them to realise gains on the property while simultaneously allowing the local government off the hook for maintaining the properties and providing for a capital receipt for them. The remaining council tenants were also given the right to self government which reduced the power of local councils over their tenants and restored some rights to the individual property renters.
The second strand is the programme of the Institute of Economic Affais Health and Welfare Unit to realise a particular form of civic society characterized by an authoritarian state and moral code alongside an economically liberal economic system.
Seen in these terms, Octavia Hill's essays and letters not only strengthen her well earned reputation as one of a very few prominent Victorian women in a predominantly male orientated world who successfully managed a considerable property portfolio but also suggest that her outlook on the impovement of tenantkind is pertinent to tody's situation.
The letters have one, at least, not insignificant flaw. The main problem with the way that Octavia Hill ran her housing was that she would not accept badly behaved or delinquent tenants. By foccusing on her relatively better behaved tenants she had already won half of the battle. The message is clear however, for those who cannot comply completely, they are to be cast out into the wilderness. In Victorian Britain that was tough indeed. That aside, the letters do indicate that Hill believed in her quest to bring about an improvement in her tenants by somewhat rough justice. It brings to mind the welfare reforms introduced in the United States by the Clinto regime.
After reading this book I came away with a sad reflection on the way some of the Victorian social reformers dealt with those who did not have the education, financial capital or the opportunities as themselves. Perhaps there are better ways to improve mankind than those adopted by Octavia Hill. Still well worth a read for anyone interested in social history and the history of public policy.