Oh, To Be England Now That the Industrial Revolution Is Here
The emergence and expansion of industry within Victorian England was a primary concern among the writers and other members of the intelligentsia of that colorful era. During the 19th century, people were moving away from the farm and into the factories, which provided writers a new vista to cultivate stories about the plight of Man. Perhaps no one fully understood at the time it was the end of the agrarian age, where farming the land was no longer the only source and means people could survive and flourish in this world. There was a new commerce being generated from the smoke-stacked factories that began to litter the lush, green yet formidable countryside of England. George Eliots exceptionally poignant novel Felix Holt: The Radical, set thirty years prior from its original publication date, examines and highlights the roles of the individual within society, especially the types of people who works in the factories. The descriptiveness of those towns and its people, like history rather than fiction. I suspect that the novelists of that era found the darkened tones of the soot that polluted the skies was a shadow of the dark undertow of their society by putting the industry beast into motion: that society was no longer pure, but stained by a hidden guilt. There were other novels during this era that reflect on some of the same concerns and findings at George Eliot expounded upon — such works as Benjamin Disraelis Sybil, Elizabeth Gaskells Mary Barton, and Charles Dicksons Hard Times.
Each has central characters that reside within the industrial environs, and its the conduct and circumstances in which we allow people to live: appalling upon reflection, but then a necessity of survival: we see contrasts throughout the novels, and how far we are willing to push people to maintain a way of life — even the children are sent into the mills and mines.
Felix Holt opens with a description of the Midland region of England Eliot described of that time in the 1830s when “the morning silvered the meadows with their long lines of bushy willows marking the watercourses, or burnished the golden corn-ricks clustered near the long roofs of some midland homestead. Everywhere the bushy hedgerows wasted the land with their straggling beauty, shrouded the grassy borders of the pastures. Such hedgerows were often as tall as the labourers cottages dotted along the lanes, or clustered into a small hamlet, their little dingy windows telling of nothing but the darkness within. In these Midland districts the traveler passed rapidly from one phase of English life to another: after looking down a village dingy with coal-dust, noisy with the shaking looms. Rattled over the pavement of a manufacturing town, the scene of riots and trades-unions meetings where the neighbourhood of the town was only felt in the advantages of a near market where men with a considerable banking account were accustomed to say that “they never meddled with politics themselves” (Felix Holt, p.76-79).
In Benjamin Disraelis 1845 novel Sybil,.