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‘Unsettled Minds’ in England and Wales, 1800-1834.



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Ladlow, Jake 


This thesis is set to analyse pauper letters to provide a new critical framework to access the emotional lives of what Edward Thompson once called ‘people from below’ under the last years of the Old Poor Law. The concept and spectrum of ‘unsettled mind’ is to be introduced as the central interpretive framework through which the content and emotional dimensions of pauper’s requests for relief will be examined. The hypothesis of unsettledness is that ordinary people in England and Wales experienced a constant state of flux in their mental well-being and moved across an experiential spectrum. This ranged from deeply embedded contentment with the self and their human situation, to confinement, usually in asylums, in mental institutions. The study is based upon close readings and detailed analysis of the corpus linguistics found in pauper letters from 1,499 individual letter sets across eight different typological and topographical regions. Five different typologies of unsettled mind will be presented and analysed, with a view to reconstructing the emotional lives of the poor. The introduction and subsequent use of the spectrum of unsettledness locates this study at the liminal intersection of the historical literatures of madness and emotion. The argument will be made that the accounts from unsettled paupers allow historians to: look beyond the realm of the asylum and notions of madness to consider contemporaries’ experiences of mental distress in the words used by the affected to describe their experiences; present a history of the emotional dimensions of poverty, a wide-scale study of the emotions of the lower classes, and offer a new window into contemporaries’ actualised experience(s) of illness; and to demonstrate how the letters give testimony to the exercise and limits of paupers’ agency in the early nineteenth century. This thesis aims, ultimately, to present an emotional history of poverty in the words of those that endured its effects and provide a privileged space for their accounts of pauperism and unsettledness to be heard.





Foyster, Elizabeth


pauper letters, unsettled minds, history of emotions, madness


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge