The Power of Pathos: James Burn Russell's Life in One Room and the creation of council housing



Smyth J (2019) The Power of Pathos: James Burn Russell's Life in One Room and the creation of council housing. Scottish Historical Review, 98 (1), pp. 103-127.

James Burn Russell's pamphlet, Life in One Room (1888), is almost certainly the best known and, as is argued here, the most influential published work in the history of social reform in modern Scotland. Regardless of Russell's own intentions and political beliefs Life in One Room became the default source for those who sought to promote housing for the working class and council housing in particular. It is remarkable just how often, and at what length, it was quoted in writings about and referenced in debates on housing before the First World War, during the War and after. This article seeks to identify the influence and attraction of Russell's pamphlet with particular reference to the author's opposition to Social Darwinism and to its literary qualities. Russell's style was quintessentially Victorian but this is not to dismiss it as hopelessly sentimental. Informed by recent approaches to the history of Victorian culture and literature we can see how Russell, equally at home in the arts as in the sciences, consciously used sentimentalism or pathos to get his message across to the wider public. We ought not to preen and expand our virtues to the sun in our self-contained houses, putting them in proud contrast with the vices of those who live in the one-roomed house, without asking ourselves how far both the virtue and the vice are

Scotland; Glasgow; twentieth century; housing; James Burn Russell

Scottish Historical Review: Volume 98, Issue 1

Publication date30/04/2019
Publication date online31/03/2019
Date accepted by journal19/01/2019

People (1)


Dr James Smyth

Dr James Smyth

Senior Lecturer, History