The Apprenticeship of Beatrice Webb by Deborah Epstein Nord (auth.)

By Deborah Epstein Nord (auth.)

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8 Webb describes these two typical representatives of the political and economic developments of nineteenth-century industrial England at the beginning of My Apprenticeship, not only to suggest something of her parents' origins, but to offer her grandparents' spirit, their association with community life, their principled and active dedication to the egalitarian thrust of Radicalism as a contrast to the rootless and seemingly unprincipled atmosphere of the life of her immediate family. The Potter and Heyworth ancestry and their Northern origins, from which Webb's parents had all but cut themselves off, came to represent for her a way oflife that held meaning, religious 'My Apprenticeship': the Shape of a Life 37 purpose and a true collective and communal spirit.

29 It is, for both Mill and 'Rutherford', the process of questioning and re-fashioning belief that is crucial; and it is a real breakdown in the ability to sustain faith and work that is at the centre of this experience. For although the autobiographer may not ultimately reject completely the ideologies and values of his origins, he invariably conceives of this psychological and often physical breakdown as a moment in the process of conversion. The secularized autobiography of the Victorian age inevitably depends for its language and structure on the narrative of religious conversion.

Birth and parentage, the mental atmosphere of class and creed in which he is bred, the characteristics and attainments of the men and women who have been his guides and associates, come first and foremost of all the raw material upon which he works .... It is his own social and economic circumstances that determine the special opportunities, the peculiar disabilities, the particular standpoints for observation and reasoning- in short, the inevitable bias with which he is started on his way to discovery.

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