Beatrice Webb: A Life

Overview

"She was," George Bernard Shaw wrote, "a great citizen, a great civilizer, and a great investigator." For many she represented the triumph of the independent Englishwoman, for others little more than a heroic failure. But whatever responses Beatrice Webb provoked in her unusual life, she could scarcely be ignored. In this fine and sensitive new biography, Carole Seymour-Jones uncovers the brilliant and beautiful woman who renounced social position to fight for workers and slum dwellers in late-nineteenth-century London; who chose socialism over
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Overview

"She was," George Bernard Shaw wrote, "a great citizen, a great civilizer, and a great investigator." For many she represented the triumph of the independent Englishwoman, for others little more than a heroic failure. But whatever responses Beatrice Webb provoked in her unusual life, she could scarcely be ignored. In this fine and sensitive new biography, Carole Seymour-Jones uncovers the brilliant and beautiful woman who renounced social position to fight for workers and slum dwellers in late-nineteenth-century London; who chose socialism over love and motherhood when she married Sidney Webb; who with Shaw was a founder of Fabian social reform; and who with her husband applauded Soviet communism in its early years. "Beatrice's story is a very modern one," the author writes, because "it is a story of choices.... She reworked the Victorian feminine ideal of the 'angel in the house' to follow her own original path as a social investigator…[and] she paid a heavy price." Ms. Seymour-Jones has written an intriguing biography with important reverberations for women in our own time. With 8 pages of photographs.
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Editorial Reviews

London Observer
Remarkably good and interesting.
Times Literary Supplement (UK)
Perceptive and sympathetic.
The London Times
She remains an inexhaustibly fascinating person, partly because of her energy and commitment and partly because her views seem to the modern mind mutually contradictory.
Times Literary Supplement
Perceptive and sympathetic.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In her evangelical crusade for a more just society, Beatrice Webb 1858-1943 suppressed the emotional and feminine elements in her personality, as this exemplary biography reveals. A railway magnate's daugther, she renounced her sexual passion for charismatic, male-chauvinist politician Joseph Chamberlain, the great love of her life. In an act of class rebellion, she married a Cockney hairdresser's son, Sidney Webb, whom she found physically repulsive. With deep remorse, she forsook motherhood for the sake of their literary and political partnership which, according to English writer Seymour-Jones, exacted a heavy price--mental breakdown, anorexia nervosa and a hardening of her personality into a didactic, puritanical mold. The woman who laid the groundwork for the modern welfare state emerges here as a deeply conflicted person who kept a tight rein on the mystical, artistic and sexual impulses that simmered beneath her brittle facade. This demythologizing life story rescues Beatrice Webb from her husband's shadows and reverberates with implications for contemporary women. Photos. Oct.
Library Journal
In her lifetime and long after, Beatrice Webb elicited both admiration and irritation--often simultaneously. In this sympathetic but balanced biography, she seems both victim and provocateur, with her ambivalence toward the Victorian feminine ideal complicating her response to religion, love, and ambition. Here, the element of choice in her romances is a bit overdrawn Chamberlain never actually proposed, and Sidney Webb won her by sheer persistence, but relentless tensions in her life and character, particularly over career vs. family, justify Seymour-Jones's vision of Webb as a ``woman of conflict.'' The psychological portrait is perceptive and temperate. Of equal interest is Webb's political development, as she departs from her privileged background to become an ardent Fabian Socialist, a founder of the London School of Economics and The New Statesman, and, lastly, a ``believer'' in Soviet communism. A thorough yet readable life of an original and committed woman.--Patricia Dooley, Univ. of Washington Lib. Sch., Seattle
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566630016
  • Publisher: Ivan R Dee
  • Publication date: 8/28/1992
  • Edition description: 1st American ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 383
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.35 (d)

Meet the Author

Carole Seymour-Jones studied history at Oxford and was first drawn to Beatrice Webb through her diaries and letters, many of which appear for the first time in this book. Ms. Seymour-Jones lives and writes in England.
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