The Match Girl and the Heiress

The Match Girl and the Heiress

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How two extraordinary women crossed the Victorian class divide to put Christian teachings into practice in the slums of East London

Nellie Dowell was a match factory girl in Victorian London who spent her early years consigned to orphanages and hospitals. Muriel Lester, the daughter of a wealthy shipbuilder, longed to be free of the burden of money and possessions. Together, these unlikely soulmates sought to remake the world according to their own utopian vision of Christ's teachings. The Match Girl and the Heiress paints an unforgettable portrait of their late-nineteenth-century girlhoods of wealth and want, and their daring twentieth-century experiments in ethical living in a world torn apart by war, imperialism, and industrial capitalism.

In this captivating book, Seth Koven chronicles how each traveled the globe--Nellie as a spinster proletarian laborer, Muriel as a well-heeled tourist and revered Christian peacemaker, anticolonial activist, and humanitarian. Koven vividly describes how their lives crossed in the slums of East London, where they inaugurated a grassroots revolution that took the Sermon on the Mount as a guide to achieving economic and social justice for the dispossessed. Koven shows how they devoted themselves to Kingsley Hall--Gandhi's London home in 1931 and Britain's first people's house founded on the Christian principles of social sharing, pacifism, and reconciliation--and sheds light on the intimacies and inequalities of their loving yet complicated relationship.

The Match Girl and the Heiress probes the inner lives of these two extraordinary women against the panoramic backdrop of shop-floor labor politics, global capitalism, counterculture spirituality, and pacifist feminism to expose the wounds of poverty and neglect that Christian love could never heal.

Author: Seth Koven
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Published: 01/18/2015
Pages: 464
Binding Type: Hardcover
Weight: 2.00lbs
Size: 9.50h x 6.50w x 1.41d
ISBN: 9780691158501

Review Citation(s):
Kirkus Reviews 11/01/2014
Publishers Weekly 11/17/2014
New York Times Book Review 01/25/2015 pg. 16
New York Review of Books 12/17/2015 pg. 94
Books & Culture 03/01/2016 pg. 26

About the Author
Seth Koven is professor of history at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. He is the author of "Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London" (Princeton).