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'A Dangerous Revolutionary Force Amongst US': Conceptualizing Working-Class Tea Drinking in the British Isles, c . 1860–1900

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Abstract

Historians of nineteenth-century British tea consumption have highlighted the function of the substance as an index of middle-class civility and marker of national identity. In this article, I maintain that concerns about tea drinking were equally prominent throughout the late Victorian period. As medical practitioners increasingly intervened in food matters, apprehension about the physiological and psychological consequences of increasing access to tea in working-class communities proliferated. This pessimistic discourse can be firmly situated in the context of broader debates about national decline, physical and mental deterioration, the subversion of gender roles in the domestic sphere and Imperial expansion.

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... Problematically, doctors viewed tea as a nervous stimulant containing little nutritional benefit. Heavy consumption (combined with the strength of Victorian tea) seemed to have exhilarating effects, encouraging doctors to frown upon excessive tea drinking as reckless behaviour (in some ways mirroring present-day discussion of caffeine addiction) [31]. ...
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This work, originally financed by research grants from industry, has been supported by the Social Science Research Council. I am grateful to Prof. T. C. Barker and Prof. John Yudkin, who both read early drafts of this article, for their encouragement and advice.
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