The Decline of Life: Old Age in Eighteenth-century England

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The Decline of Life is an ambitious and absorbing study of old age in eighteenth-century England. Drawing on a wealth of sources - literature, correspondence, poor house and workhouse documents and diaries - Susannah Ottaway considers a wide range of experiences and expectations of age in the period, and demonstrates that the central concern of ageing individuals was to continue to live as independently as possible into their last days. Ageing men and women stayed closely connected to their families and communities, in relationships characterized by mutual support and reciprocal obligations. Despite these aspects of continuity, however, older individuals' ability to maintain their autonomy, and the nature of the support available to them once they did fall into necessity declined significantly in the last decades of the century. As a result, old age was increasingly marginalized. Historical demographers, historical gerontologists, sociologists, social historians and women's historians will find this book essential reading.