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Unquiet Country: Voices of the Rural Poor, 1820 -1880 [Paperback]

Robert Lee
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
RRP: £19.95
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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Windgather Press; First Edition edition (5 Mar 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1905119038
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905119035
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14.3 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 602,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


We rarely hear the past voices of the rural poor - the labourers dependent on casual employment, the workhouse inmates, the dispossessed. This book lets them tell their own story. It is often a story of bitterness and resentment, and one that bursts occasionally into outright rebellion. To many who occupied the early-Victorian countryside, injustice seemed part of the landscape. Robert Lee draws on a remarkable set of historical sources from Norfolk which show how the experience of poverty could lead people into social transgression and political resistance. Using dramatisations of contemporary accounts he presents a series of disturbing true stories, and goes on to assess what each one can tell us about the reality of nineteenth-century rural society. Insurrection, riot, execution, witchcraft, seduction - Unquiet Country visits the dark side of the Age of Improvement. Two centuries earlier the cry had gone out that 'the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he'. Thomas Rainsborough's radical fire may not have caught at the time, but it lived on, even in a polarised world of baronial halls, disease-ridden hovels and New Poor Law workhouses.

This book uncovers its glowing embers.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
63 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing quiet about this... 26 Dec 2005
The first commendable strength of this book is its readability. Whilst there is clear academic credibility, with copious referencing, wide-ranging research and a remarkable set of historical sources underpinning the content of this investigation, this is not your usual dry and detached historical thesis. For a start, it is a short book! It is not unnecessarily wordy like so many academic tomes, yet nevertheless it packs a strong punch of thought-provoking reflection within its 160 pages. The credibility of the book as a whole stems from the voices of the rural poor themselves, who are caringly brought back to consciousness in order to present their stories. The author clearly has more than just a passing academic interest in the historical details of his subject. He is also passionately driven to give these people a voice, and we sense (and even grow to share?) that passion as we read the book .This is not the history of kings, queens and the well-to-dos, but of real people, whose voices we rarely here. This book powerfully yet sensitively explodes that mythic idyll of England’s green and pleasant rural land, with a passionate and compelling evocation of the reality of what life was really like for the rural poor of nineteenth century England ( and specifically Norfolk).
This is both a visual and aural book, achieved through clever and varied narrative style. In order to recreate the sense of time, place and experiences that these ‘real’ people actually lived during their lifetimes the author successfully mixes academic interpretation and commentary with evocative reconstruction, narrative storytelling and, in places, scripted dialogue. As such, it becomes a comfortable and compelling read. The style employed is not unlike current TV docu-drama reconstructions.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Unquiet Country is written by somebody who wanted to be a novelist and became an academic. This means Robert Lee really knew how to make history readable! The chapters cover many interesting stories of real people, mainly from Norfolk. There are unmarried mothers and what happened to them in workhouses. The effect of the enclosures on the rural poor, and their treatment by the all powerful squires and landowners.
If this doesn't stir you to consider injustice, make you feel grateful for the welfare state, then you're probably too comfortably off!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth a read! 13 July 2012
By Arthur
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had difficulty putting this book down. It provides an interesting, thought-provoking insight into the lives of Norfolk farm-labourers (among them my forebears) in the mid Nineteenth Century and illustrates that so many problems we see today are not so very different from those which perplexed society more than 200 years ago. Mr Lee breathes life into the scenes recorded in dusty parish and workhouse minute books, in Magistrates' judgements and personal letters expressing heartfelt pleas for justice and relief. Highly recommended.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unquiet Country 24 Mar 2009
By S. Kent
If you have "ag labs" in Norfolk (or probably anywhere in rural England) Read this book. Previous review says it all, better than I can.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book review 8 April 2009
As a student of this period of history an invaluable book. Also a good read.
Usual good Amazon service
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