Topic 47A – The industrial revolution in england; its influence as a model for historical transformation. Social and political changes through the literature of the period. charles dickens

Topic 47A – The industrial revolution in england; its influence as a model for historical transformation. Social and political changes through the literature of the period. charles dickens


Term popularized by Arnold Toynbee to describe the economic and social transformation of Britain during a period from 1740 to 1850.

Economically, change from domestic production to production in factories under capitalist control, introduction of water and steam power to drive machines, and a surge of industrial innovation.

Why the revolution began in Britain:

Had a preindustrial economy, basis for an acumulative process.

Relative political stability following the glorious revolution of 1688-89

Constitution that emphasized individualism

Development of strong banking and credit system

Inventiveness that had come associated with nonconformity.

Raw materials (coal, iron, wool)

Overseas colonial empire + expanding domestic market

It caused vast social changes

Move from the land to the industrial towns

Creation of an industrial working class, suffering hardship and sometimes opposed to employers.

By the end of the war:

England had resisted the ideological armies of revolutionary France for 20 years, but doing so she had entered a process of transformation. Outwardly, the world of politics looked resistant to change. Burke´s proposal to establish a real parlamentary system, hadn´t scrapped out the previous influence system, nor had imperilled the security of the throne. But England had been reoriented by economic forces more radically then France by the guillotine and the code of Napoleon. Numerically, the new business men were minority, the system of local government was unshaken, but the foundations of social life, mirrored in the way men approached literature, philosophy, dress, manners were under deep revision before the end of the war.



The war with France gave a jerk to the economy.

For many manufacturers it presented a crisis, aloss of old markets. They were forced to apply swift remedies or to cease business. The concept of efficiency in production became a matter of extreme importance.


Particularly, war stimulated the industry of iron and steel. The demand for munitions brought about an increase in output of iron.

In 1789, Cort loses his system, improving the rentability of the process of iron manufacture. The system, becomes one of extensive use, and the output of iron increases drastically.

Less dramatic was the development of steel industry, although the process was improved by the introduction of Huntsman crucible.

The war also diminished the supply from abroad. From 1809, government deparments used British iron instead of Russian even for the most exacting requirements of the services.

Iron was expanded to every kind of uses: bridges, boats. Wilkinson makes iron chairs, pipes, he was buried in an iron coffin.

A cualitative change appears when machines are used to make machines. The symbol of a new era was the mechanical hammer, striking 150 blows in a minute by steam power, making up plates with which other machines would be made. The uses of steam power to move a wheel or a belt turned out to be inexhaustible. The engine of other revolutions came in the shape of an ideology, but this one had literally the form of a real engine.


The expansion of this industry was introduced both by the use of new techniques and processes and by an increase in home production, due to the seasonal character of the demand. Dr. Cartwright, patented a steam powered weaving machine, and new methods of bleaching, dyeing, mechanical printing and hydraulic presses for packing were used. However, for exceptional demand of all sorts, where fine products were required, home production was vastly used.


The woollen industry was the leading English industry in 1793, as for centuries past. It was partly this established position which retarded the development of this industry (passed by cotton by the end of war). Dr. Cartwright´s combining machine got a cheaper as well as finer product, but the wool-combers, with the highest wages in the trade, naturally tried to preserve their position. Though invented in 1790, it began to be used in 1815 although factory production still didn´t became the rule.

As to raw materials, whereas raw cotton was improving in supply, that of wool was being throttled. Sheep, by developments in agriculture, became better as food producers. War made supply from Spain more difficult. The flourish of sheep in Australia, bring about abundance in new raw material not until 1815.


Linen: The old hand methods of flax spinning flourished alongside the machine production being tried in Leeds.

Pottery: English pottery became so famous for its cheapness and reliability that it was a common saying that every inn from Paris to St. Petersburgh fed its guests on English earthenware.

Leather: The excellence of English leather was said to depend on the great length of time which the tanners allowed for the tanning process. This suggests that it must have been due to the monetary resources of producers who could patiently lock up their capital in this way. It isn´t but other example of the functioning of the feedback of the capitalist processes. The more money available to the producer the larger the rentability he can obtain from the products.

The rest of industries, profited by the expansion of the others, but apart from a tendency to grow in size, showed few radical changes.


The growth in population is in part the cause, in part the result of the great expansion. The birth rate rose a little while the death rate fell after 1790. It gave an expanding home market to the industry. But it brought about insanitary and inhumanitary housing conditions.

Before industrialization, housing for the labouring classes was very bad. We can´t say that the growth of new towns did not introduce new bad standards in housing, but it intensified old evils.

One example: the city of Edinburgh, with its high buildings, was dirty and insanitary in 1760. The growth of population by 1815 had turned it in a nightmare of overcrowding and odorous horror.

Before industrialization, people alreadly threw their refuse out of windows, but with the multiplication of streets and people, the problem became intolerable. The number of sewers in cities, was only a bit bigger in 1815 than in 1760.

One example: in Bethnal Green, London, the houses built after 1800, were built without sewers.

It is not in housing standards of architects´drawings that the evils of the new age will be found, but in the effects of crowding so many houses of the old type together.

One example: Bethnal Green: They were houses of a superior kind, of two stories, but they had poorer foundations and the water of the growing settlement penetrated under the floors.

Apart from these physical conditions: Even for a skilled man, in a decent house, with some sort of drainage, life in the enlarged northern towns had new problems. The old social landmarks had disappeared. He felt fimself for a while lost in his novel environment. It bring about new evils, remarked by censorious moralists of the time: godlessness of the workers, disappearance of the institution of matrimony among Staffordshire potters, the drunkenness in Lancashire.

Another problems were those connected with factory life. They didn´t work more hours, nor were they worst paid. What was most detested in the factories was a feeling of servitude and discipline, the fact of working to a timetable. That explains the blind animosity sometimes shown against the machines, symbols of this systema that grew more and more inhuman.

Concerning the industrial wages, the development was a patchy one, increasing in some sections and falling in others.


Skilled working in expanding industries, if not replaced by machinery.

Failed to rise:

Those completely unskilled, like for example the first wave of Irish immigrants

Having an old skill which had to suffer the competition or replacement of machinery.

Child and female labour. It was of course an evil, but not exactly a new one. In the older domestic system, they were made to work as long hours by their fathers as they were in the factory. However, with industrialization, their conditions got worse, and their use more general. (in spite of Peel´s Act, laying down certain standards for their work).

The writers of the epoch and their attitudes to the social and political changes.

So a new world was being born. Everywhere the firm horizons were dissolving, the classical stability was giving way to discontent and homesickness, but also to confident reconstruction, or the feverish pursuit of novelty for its own shake.

What inspired this general mood? Perhaps the first thing to shake the old ideas was the French Revolution. Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, the old generation of English romantics, were young men in 1789, and they believed that the collapse of the greatest monarchy in the world opened up an exhilarating prospect for all men.

&Blake, in his earlier prophetic works, celebrates the independence of American colonies and the French Revolution. He himself had mixed in turbulent radical circles in London.

&Wordsworth, mingled with republicans in France, and saw the ruins of the Bastille. In Descriptive Sketches he deals with the cause of French &Revolution and idealizes Swiss republicanism. In his last years, though, he lost his revolutionary enthusiasm and became a conservative in politics, orthodox in religion and stiff in lyrical expression.

&John Keats joined the liberal literary circle associated with Leigh Hunt.

& Lord Byron, in England was a Whig who spoke eloquently at the house of Lords.

Romanticism is a reaction against the old rules (in arts, fashion, manners), by which man´s nature would have been confined. But it is not the artistic expression of the new industrial England. On the contrary, it is a reaction against the prosaic, inhuman, mechanized world that was being born with industrialization. So romanticism is a search for escaping from this prosaic, industrial world, the contemporary world, and from (neo)Classicism, the world of the previous epoch. This escape was realized in a number of forms:


&Blake rebelled directly against the industrial changes of the time. “Wales gives his Daughters to the Looms”.

&Classical literature had been metropolitan associated with great cities, like Alexandria, the greek cities, Rome. The boast of English classicism that London could be added to that list. Now Shelley remarks that “hell is a city much like London”.

The most relevant exponents of this reaction to industrialization were Wordsworth works, as in An Evening Walk, a poem describing the The Lake Country from noon to night. In this description he shows nature as the natural habitat of man, far from civilization. There is a pantheistic view of nature in his writings that also reminds us of oriental philosophies. For Wordsworth, nature was a source of mental cleanliness, the stepping stone between man and god. The Lake Country was the place where he spent his childhood, and where he returned later to enjoy the neighboorhood of his friend and collegue Coleridge.

In collaboration they wrote Lyrical Ballads, whose main input to the movement was the use of popular, real popular speech in poetry.

This like for the popular, the rustic, is also present in Sir Walter Scott. He uses Scottish dialect speech in his novels. He is a romantic, not for his ideas, nor way of life, but because he scorned the universality of the classical view and focused in the ancient customs of Scotland. His best characters are not the aristocrats that crowd his pages, but the few simple characters taken from the humble ranks of scottish life. Through Scott´s pen, Scotland became the Romantic country par excellence (grandeur of his scenery, independent peasantry, bloody nature of much of its history).

The last part of Mary Shelley´s Frankenstein is set in the mountains above Chamonix, the glorious presence-chamber of the imperial nature for Romantics.

John Keats´ The ode to a nightingale: a happy world of natural loveliness is contrasted with the human world of pain.

In time, searching past epoques:

Walter Scott´s love of the glamorous past:

Ivanhoe: Richard I

Quentin Duward: Louis XI France

The monastery: torture of Mary Stuart

Kenilworth: Elizabeth I

The fortune of the Nigel: 1st Stuart James I

Old morality: James II and the Glorious Revolution

Peveril of the Peak: Charles II

The heart of Midlothian: Queen Ann

Rob Roy: George I

medieval age: Gothic Novels with its medieval settings of castles and convents in the medieval times.

, the mytological past:

in space, to oriental, exotic settings.

A escape from the strict rules of the eigteenth century, symbolized in the freedom of the pirate, the convict, the gipsy.

The break of old rules is also seen in the formal field. The main exponent of this is the like for blank verse, not submitted to rhyme standards. It is the favourite form of Wordsworth: Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey.

But the most deep aspect of this escape, was the rebellion against the very roots of not only immediate past literature, but of the whole system of thinking since Greek´s times: rationality, the common denominator of almost every expression of occidental arts. In philosophy, this rationality had specifically dominated the world of science in the eighteenth century, and the mental world, by the theories of Locke. It was logic then that the romantic choice of one of the two great philosophic systems was for Platonism.

&The clearest instance of this choice is in Blake´s works. For Blake, evil in the world is inherent in generation, in being born into the natural world. The result of generation is to confine man in his 5 senses. Man only can be freed by the operation of poetic genius and imagination. Note that this view is nearer to oriental, non-rational philosophy and to Plato than to Christianism and Aristotle, its philosophic reference. The origin of evil is dealt with in The Book of Urizen, Blake´s version of Genesis.

& Shelley was also attracted to the works of Plato. He translates Plato´s Symposium into English. In the lyrical drama Prometeus Unbound, we can see a fight between Good and Evil. The ideas behind it are platonic.

Non-rational uses of mind flourish and reflect in a number of ways: the interest for dreams, drugs, hypnosis, fools, interests that would have been seen as unhealthy and sterile in the previous century.

&The interest about drugs as a means to explore our inconscence is represented in De Quincey´s Confessions of an English Opium Eater.

&Coleridge´s Kubla Khan was composed in an opium dream. Opium was the drug that marked the life and the sufferings of this author. It is this author who gives us the deepest insight in the concept of irrationality as opposed to logic in the field of arts.He explained that much of eighteenth century literature was only the work of fancy. Fancy is the ability to see a link between two objects, which, although possibly obscure, can be established logically. The true poet, however, worked with the imagination, fusing objects by links undiscoverable by the operation of reason. Imagination is our hope of contact with the eternal forces, the whole spiritual world.

Sensibility is another of the aspects of this multiple-shaped irrationality. Sensibility is the cult of feelings.

&It is present in the characters of Richardson and Stern, and in Henry Mackenzie´s The Man of Feeling. Abroad, Rousseau´s characters, and Goethe´s Werther. It is associated with the concept of the innate goodness of man.

&This concept is present in Blake´s book of poems, Sons of Innocence, where innocence is located not in race childhood, but in individual childhood, for the first time. This book is illustrated by Blake himself, also engraver. He was also printer, publisher, and bookseller.The book is an evocation of that paradise that Milton had declared lost.

Gothic novel was the romantic prose input to the insight in human irrational mind, this time by means of terror and disease. Medieval castles and convents are used here as physical as well as mental prisons, and nature used as a source of terrifying elements, in the form of thunders, rain, and the silence and sounds of night. With the Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe, we have to mention Gregory Lewis´ The Monk, where terror is mingled with moral and physical recoil in what we could term horror.

A variant of this genre, is what we could call scientific Gothic, represented by Mary Shelley´s Frankenstein. Here the theme of Goethe´s Fausto is placed in a laboratory. The argument of the book is an analogy of the concept of evil, inherent in generation dealt with by Blake.

Human nature is Jane Austen´s subject-matter as a novelist. Her heroines are all young girls at the outset of adult life.

We should also say that not all the writers of the epoque share the mood just described. Jane Austen was as unromantic as one should be. Sense and Sensibility is an attack upon excessive emotionalism. Northanger Abbey had the purposes of poking fun at gothic romantic fiction. However, there is a difference between Austen´s rationalism and that of the eighteenth century: she was in accord with the times in her assumptionof the independence of her own class. Her ground was that of the sensible upper-middle class woman. Even the best of Byron´s works, Don Juan, is elegantly cynical, and not fully romantic.


Porstmouth 1812

Family´s finances always precarious.

1823 a relative offers work in a blacking business, labelling bottles for 6 shillings a week deeply traumatic. Even as a child he had dreamed of becoming famous, and this job made this possibility slip away from him. The experience portraited in displaced form in Oliver Twist, snatched away from the prospects of respectable middle-class and delivered into fagin´s criminal underworld. Fagin was the real name of the only Dicken´s friend in the job. He is one of the long line of false fathers in Dicken´s fiction. Frightening but warm, comic and paternal. First seen frying sausages ( food is almost always sign of festive companionship in Dickens). Resembles Dicken´s own father inefectual, financially embarrased, portraited in the Micawber of David Copperfield, and the Haarold Skimpole of Bleak House.

Father arrested for debt. The whole family, except the young Charles, moves to Marshalsea´s prison. This also was a traumatic experience for the boy, who would later recreate the prison in Little Dorrit. In his novels, family and crime will be complexly interrelated, as in the figure of the irresponsible father. For the later Dickens, the father who has abandoned care for his children es Victorian society itself, a false and heartless patriarchy which gas orphaned its people. Family, that sacred enclave of Victorian England, appears more and more as a sick, villent and perverted network. In earlier works, Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, nicholas Nickleby, Martin Chuzzlewit, still look for the resolution of probems to what has been termed the Chrismas figure, the reformed Scrooge of A Chrismas Carol. From Dombey and Son onwards (1846-48) become gradually aware that Victorian England is corrupt and exploitative as a system. Their Chrismas characters, like John Jarndyce of Bleak House, are thus more significantly and ineffectual.

At 16, freelance reporter in the court of Doctor´s Commons. Introduction to the London of clerks and hacks, lawyers, businessmen and politicians. Dickens himself was born into the lower middle class. This precarious, contradictory social location is the source of the greatest Victorian fiction. Brönte sisters, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy. View from here, is to have access to the official, middle class order, but also to experience sympathy for those beyond the social pale. Like Oliver Twist, he is caught painfully between the upper world of polite middle class society and the criminal world of Fagin.

He becomes a parliamentary reported some years before the firs Reform Bill of 1832, so he views one of the most crucial events in modern English political story. (The system of parliamentary representation was changed and more voters, (from the industrial working class were enfranchised)). This reform represents a qualified victory for the industrial middle class in its struggle to control the state apparatus of English society. Landowners controlled the legislature, the judiciary aand the executive institutions of power, which the manufacturers set out to break in the early 19th century.

The early works deals with class struggle throughout Britain, the middle class disatisfied and proletariat carrying through a campaign for political enfranchisement. His sympathy for the oppressed coexists with a typical middle class fear or the mob, reflected in the anti trade union sentiments of Hard Times. Two antithetical ideological traditions in 19th society. Ruling class ideology of Utilitarianism, with its ruthlessly “modernizing” impulse. Romantic humanist heritage descending from the early romantics (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake), an essentially idealist protest against the inhuman priorities of industrial capitalism. But Dickens is a pragmatic rather than doctrinal or metaphysical thinker.

After the publishing of Martin Chuzzlewit, he was already a phenomenal success. His contemporary audiences,saw him as an entertainer, closer to the forms of popular culture than to high art:

Works of literature

Organic unity

Characters complex, fully rounded and psychologically detailed

The modern author should shyly erase himself from the text


Proliferate in all directions

Figures flat, two dimensional, vivid sketches for real people

Bounds into it, preaching didactic, sententious and moralistic

Dickens´ early period coincides with the phase of early industrial capitalism development in England, in which social relations and institutions are being violently uprooted and transformed. The economic expansion had been bought at inmense human cost. The age at which children might begin work was 6 or 7, even 3 or 4. Hours from 12 to 19 in a busy period, brutal beatings administered to keep children awake. Parliamentary reform had been passed to limit working hours, but the reform continued incomplete by the middle of the century. The fragmentary, disorientating world of his fiction belongs to a social order in transition. His isolated athomized individuals, reflect a society in which all settled relations between men are being dissolved.

The later novels search for some single institution or social process which might provide a unifying metaphor of society as a whole:

Bleak House bureaucratic legal system

Hard times educational system

Little dorrit Marshalsea´s prison

Dust heaps Our mutual friend.

(symbol for capitalist profit)