Feeling the strain

A cultural history of stress in twentieth-century Britain

By Jill Kirby

Feeling the strain


  • eBook
  • Paperback

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-2329-9
  • Pages: 272
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: July 2019
  • BIC Category: Medicine / History of medicine, Humanities / Social & cultural history, History of medicine, Coping with stress, 20th century, c 1900 to c 1999, MEDICAL / History, MEDICAL / Psychiatry / General, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural, SOCIAL SCIENCE / General, Society & social sciences / General, Medical Sociology, Psychology: Emotions, Modern History, History, History of Medicine, United Kingdom, Great Britain
  • Series: Social Histories of Medicine


Examining the popular discourse of nerves and stress, this book provides a historical account of how ordinary Britons understood, explained and coped with the pressures and strains of daily life during the twentieth century. It traces the popular, vernacular discourse of stress, illuminating not just how stress was known, but the ways in which that knowledge was produced. Taking a cultural approach, the book focuses on contemporary popular understandings, revealing continuity of ideas about work, mental health, status, gender and individual weakness, as well as the changing socio-economic contexts that enabled stress to become a ubiquitous condition of everyday life by the end of the century. With accounts from sufferers, families and colleagues it also offers insight into self-help literature, the meanings of work and changing dynamics of domestic life, delivering a complementary perspective to medical histories of stress.


'[. ] this timely text makes a valuable and enjoyable intervention into the literature on twentieth century Britain. Feeling the Strain will be a valuable resource for gender historians and historians interested in mental health. It marshals a range of revealing source material to inform our historical understanding of a problem that seems, at the present moment, to be ubiquitous and inexorable.'
Twentieth Century British History


1 Nerves and the nervous: self-help books in the early decades of the twentieth century
2 Neurotic tendencies: workplace and suburban neurosis in the interwar period
3 'Just Nerves!': civilian nerves in the Second World War
4 Th e great strain: domestic troubles in post-war Britain
5 The democratisation of stress: popular and personal discourse in the 1960s and 1970s
6 The 'ruthless years': burn-out and the paradigm of stress


Jill Kirby is Lecturer in History at the University of Sussex

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