My Apprenticeship has long been cited as an important and fascinating source for students of social attitudes and conditions in late Victorian Britain, and this new paperback edition makes it once more generally available. Beatrice Webb, the eighth of the nine daughters of the railway magnate Richard Potter, was an exceptionally able person, with a zest for observation, a knack for pointed comment, and a habit of self-examination – all of which gifts she put to good account in the private diary she kept all her life and in this brilliant volume of autobiography which she based on that diary. It tells the story of a craft and a creed, of a withdrawn but talented girl, growing up in a prosperous household, who turned to social investigation and social reform, moving between the two starkly contrasted worlds of West End smart society and East End squalor. She served a hard apprenticeship, as a woman as well as a professional worker, and in a new introduction to this edition Norman MacKenzie describes the severe personal stresses which lay behind her life of dedication to social improvement, particularly her frustrated passion for Joseph Chamberlain and the troubled courtship which preceded her marriage to Sidney Webb. This volume ends on the eve of that marriage, when she was about to begin her famous and astonishingly productive collaboration with her husband. As historians, publicists and Fabian politicians the Webbs were pioneers of the modern age.
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