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- One of the
major challenges faced by writers seeking
to portray the sufferings of the working
classes was how to give them voice.
- How concerned are the various writers in this topic with this challenge?
How do they attempt to meet it, and how successful are they?
- Compare the literary portrayal in the selections from Barrett
Browning and Gaskell to the worker's
testimony in parliamentary hearings. Does the testimony encourage
you to read these authors differently, and, if so, how? Does the testimony
itself represent the direct speech of the working poor, or do you see
reason to doubt this?
- In a number
of the Victorian prose selections in NAEL,
writers address what they see as the social
problems created by industrial labor. Read
closely the selections from Carlyle's Captains
of Industry (NAEL 8, 2.1029–33), Ruskin's Stones
of Venice (NAEL 8, 2.1324–34), and
Arnold's Doing as One Likes (NAEL
8, 2.1399–1402). How do their analyses of
industrial labor compare to the portrayals
of laboring life in this topic?
feeling was not the only factor which motivated
writers to acknowledge the suffering of the
working classes. Many writers feared that
if the workers' complaints were not heard
within the terms of civilized discourse,
they would be felt through rioting and revolution.
- Consider the images of necessary retribution in Carlyle's Democracy (NAEL
8, 2.1024–29) and Captains of Industry (NAEL 8, 2.1029–33).
How do religion, history, and "nature" together underwrite
his claims that "the Toiling Millions of Mankind . . .
shall cast away False-Guidance" and that "Democracy . . .
shall go its full course" (NAEL 8, 2.1029)?
- In contrast to Carlyle's hyperbolic rhetoric, both Gaskell and Barrett
Browning seem subtle in their references to tears being transformed
into curses. How do their visions differ from Carlyle's and from
each other? Which is the most persuasive?
- In the late nineteenth
century, a group of journalists and reformers who termed
themselves "social explorers" compared Britain's
working-class poor to non-European "savages," and
described their journeys into the dark and
near-impenetrable urban slums as journeys into the
unexplored jungles and deserts of the colonies.
- Examine the different steps by which William Booth establishes his analogy between
"darkest England" and "darkest Africa." How useful is the analogy,
and in what ways might the analogy serve to distract readers from the specific problems
of the Victorian working classes? Can Booth's rhetoric be considered as hyperbolic
- Compare Booth's descriptions of darkest England to Engels's explanation of
how Manchester's slum districts are concealed from the middle classes. Is it useful
to think of Engels as an early "social explorer"?
- Compare Barrett
Cry of the Children to two earlier
poems also concerned with the suffering of
laboring children: The Chimney Sweeper from
Blake's Songs of Innocence (NAEL
8, 2.81–87) and Songs of Experience (NAEL
- Are Blake's intentions in these poems as clear as Barrett Browning's?
How successful in each of these poems is the use of the child's voice?
- How do the two poets use theological themes to deepen, counterbalance,
or complicate their depiction of physical suffering?
- Concern with
industrial processes and progress was not
confined to the texts gathered together in
this topic and in the "Industrialism:
Progress or Decline?" section of NAEL
8 (2.1556–79). How does the reading
of these texts change your understanding
of more traditionally canonical works such
as Arnold's The Scholar Gypsy (NAEL
8, 2.1361) or Tennyson's Locksley
Hall (NAEL 8, 2.1129)?
- Henry Mayhew's Vagrant, Trouser
Maker, and Coster
Girl and The
Poor Cotton Weaver represent the
speech (and song) of the working classes
- How does working life as described in the workers' own words differ
from that life as it is presented by writers of the middle and upper
classes? Do these differences make the workers themselves more effective
or less effective advocates of their cause?
- Gaskell had explicitly based her presentation of the working classes
in Mary Barton on what she had learned
from "one or two of the more thoughtful among them." Would
Gaskell characterize Mayhew's interviewees and the singers of The Poor Cotton Weaver as thoughtful or thoughtless?
What is to be gained from listening to the less thoughtful?
- Amidst the
increasing mechanization of labor (and, for
Ruskin and Arnold, of the laborer's body
and mind), the organic reality of the workers' bodies
received a new emphasis. The spectacle of
industrialization forced writers to acknowledge
the workers' physicality: as laboring,
as suffering, as producing filth and waste.
- Consider the disagreement early in the century between Macauley and
Southey (NAEL 8, 2.1557–62) and that late in the century between Lucas and Besant, both of which
focus on the effects of industrial labor on the physical health of the
workers. What differences in tone, methods of argument, and use of evidence
do you find between the earlier and later writers? What developments
in the intervening years might account for these differences?
- Engels's description of the poverty and squalor of Manchester invites
the reader to verify the claims made and provides specific instructions
about how to do so: "Anyone who wishes to confirm this description
should go to the first court on the bank of the Irk above Ducie Bridge" (NAEL
8, 2.1569). Likewise, Lucas's Scenes from Factory
London purports to guide the reader through an actual scene, and Booth offers to help readers penetrate an uncharted wilderness of "vice and poverty and crime." What assumptions do these three very different authors share? What in the
conventions of the tour guide makes it an effective way of criticizing
or of celebrating the realities of industrial life?
or implicitly, a number of writers, including Barrett
Browning, Besant, Booth, and
Ruskin (NAEL 8, 2.1328), use slavery as a metaphor
for the industrial worker's condition.
- How do these authors establish this metaphorical equation? What is
gained by treating industrial labor in philosophical terms as a denial
of liberty rather than simply as a cause of suffering? What is lost?
- Compare the metaphor of industrial labor as slavery with the abolitionist
poetry of the eighteenth century, and the descriptions of laboring life
with descriptions of the treatment of slaves aboard ship. To what extent
does the metaphorical equation strike you as valid and as appropriate?
- Industrialism's critics saw it as the destroyer of natural human sympathies. They blamed the upper and middle classes for their failure to acknowledge their responsibility for and relation to the working classes and also blamed industrialism
for destroying workers' (especially female
workers') relations to their own families.
- Compare early Victorian denunciations of this phenomenon, such as those
by Carlyle (NAEL 8, 2.1024–33) and Engels (NAEL 8, 2.1565–72),
with a late Victorian attack, such as that of Besant. How,
if at all, has the situation changed?
- Infanticide by working-class women represented for the Victorians the
ultimate perversion of family life. How does the selection from Charles
Dickens's The Chimes (1844) construct the mother not as villain
but as victim and even heroine? What other examples of this recalibration
of morality can be found in the materials on industrialism?
- The controversy
over industrialism threw into question not
only the economic justice of the means of
material production but also the value of
various cultural productions.
- What critique of what is commonly considered art emerges from writers
like Carlyle, Ruskin, and Arnold? What new virtues is art called upon
- How do you see the faults attacked by Carlyle, Ruskin, and Arnold,
or the virtues they uphold, operating in literary works which appear
far removed from the problems of industrialism? See for instance the
poems of Tennyson (NAEL 8, 2.1109–1212) and Robert Browning (NAEL
8, 2.1248–1310) and the aesthetic theory of Pater (NAEL 8, 2.1507–13)
and of Wilde in The Critic as Artist (NAEL 8, 2.1689–97) and The
Preface to "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (NAEL 8, 2.1797–98).
- In his review
of Southey's Colloquies (NAEL
8, 2.1557–62), Thomas Macauley mocks
Southey's aesthetic preoccupations and
suggests that "the pleasures of taste
and imagination" (NAEL 8, 2.1560) should
be proscribed from discussions of economic
- Consider how this imperative toward realism is both acknowledged and
resisted by writers like Gaskell and Dickens in Hard Times (NAEL
8, 2.1573–74). What purpose is served by allowing room for what Gaskell
- In the preface to A Voice from the Factories, an earlier poem (1836)
on the same subject as The Cry of the Children, Caroline Norton
admits that "some apology is perhaps necessary" for applying
poetry to the problems of daily life. How does Norton proceed to justify
her choice of medium, and how is her theory reflected in the poem itself?
How does Barrett Browning's poem reflect or differ from Norton's
theory and practice?