In a Class of their Own: The Autodidact Impulse and Working-Class Readers in Twentieth-Century Scotland

Linda Fleming*, David Finkelstein, Alistair McCleery

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The twentieth century is commonly perceived as the era when the lofty pursuit of ‘learning for learning’s sake’ began declining as an aspiration amongst British working classes. It is a perception strongly informing, for example, one of the most recent and influential studies on the subject, Jonathan Rose’s The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes.1 From the perspective of histories of readership, this certainly amounts to a bleak indictment of working-class ambitions and the place of educational self-improvement in contemporary society. Such assumptions are particularly problematic in the context of Scotland, given this country’s predominant working-class identity and reputation for high levels of literacy.2 An assault on the reputation of Scots certainly raises questions about areas of national identity that inform the writing of Scottish history, and regularly surface in the popular image of the Scot at home and abroad.3 More lately too, elaborations on what constitutes a newly robust Scottish national identity have invoked aspects of Scotland’s historical traditions of intellectualism, and called attention to the supposed widespread respect for learning found at all levels of Scottish society. In the run up to the establishment of a devolved Scottish Parliament, for example, such rhetoric underpinned a political discussion that envisaged a reinvigoration of the Scottish national identity separate from, and not in thrall to, concepts of Britishness.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe History of Reading
Subtitle of host publicationEvidence from the British Isles, c.1750-1950
EditorsKatie Halsey, W. R. Owens
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780230316799
ISBN (Print)9781349320110
Publication statusPublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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