The book The Classic Slum: Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century by Robert Roberts gives an honest account of a village in Manchester in the first 25 years of the 20th century. The title is a reference to a description used by Friedrich Engels to describe the area in his book Conditions of the Working Class. The University of Manchester Press first published Roberts' book in the year 1971. The more recent publication by Penguin Books contains 254 pages, including the appendices. The author gives a firsthand description of the extreme poverty that gripped the area in which he grew up. His unique perspective allows him to accurately describe the self-imposed caste system, the causes and effects of widespread poverty, and the impact of World War I as someone who is truly a member of a proletarian family. His main contention is that prior to the War, the working class inhabiting the industrial slums in England "lay outside the mainstream of that society and possessed within their own ranks a system of social stratification that enclosed them in their own provincial social world and gave them little hope of going beyond it. " After the War, the working class found new economic prosperity and a better way of life, never returning to the lifestyle prevalent prior to the War.
Roberts was born in 1905 to a working class family in a Salford slum. He took a position as an engineering apprentice following his completion of school. Following his apprenticeship, he was unemployed for three years, utilizing this time to study languages. After becoming a teacher, Roberts wrote many award winning stories, plays, and scripts. Roberts became a farmer for sixteen years before beginning a career teaching in prisons. Roberts was recognized as an expert in the field of adult illiteracy and wrote two other books entitled Imprisoned Tongues and A Ragged Schooling.
Roberts organizes his book based on certain themes, such as culture and day-to-day life, paying special attention to the pre- and post-War periods so as to emphasize the evolution of the slum throughout the period of time covered. He divides it into chapters that cover specific aspects of society and day-to-day life in order to accentuate certain points. His writing style is a unique and well-chosen blend of personal reminiscences and historical research. Much of his writing, including his own experiences, is presented in a very matter-of-fact way. The impact this style has on the reader is great because he is able to state such horrors so bluntly, as only someone who was truly there can. Occasionally, however, his emotions break through, as is evident in his explanation of his parents' separation and subsequent death on page 238. Lastly, the work is scholarly and concise, as Roberts chooses to get straight to the point and elaborate on it rather than saying the same thing in many different ways.
The book is far from a complete history and instead focuses on one specific...