The Language of Gender and Class: Transformation in the Victorian Novel

The Language of Gender and Class: Transformation in the Victorian Novel

The Language of Gender and Class: Transformation in the Victorian Novel

The Language of Gender and Class: Transformation in the Victorian Novel

Synopsis

The Language of Gender and Class challenges widely-held assumptions about the study of the Victorian novel. The novels which Ingham studies are: * Shirley by Charlotter Bronte * North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell * Felix Holt by George Eliot * Hard Times by Charles Dickens * The Unclassed by George Gissing * Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

Excerpt

…in the room they entered, the dirty, ragged, miserable crew, were all in active performance of their various tasks; the overlookers, strap in hand, on the alert; the whirling spindles urging the little slaves who waited on them, to movements as unceasing as their own; and the whole monstrous chamber, redolent of all the various impurities that ‘by the perfection of our manufacturing system’ are converted into ‘gales of Araby’ for the rich, after passing in the shape of certain poison, through the lungs of the poor.

(Frances Trollope, Michael Armstrong, the Factory Boy (1840))

Nor should the weaving-room be forgotten, where a thousand or fifteen hundred girls may be observed in their coral necklaces, working like Penelope in the daytime; some pretty, some pert, some graceful and jocund, some absorbed in their occupation; a little serious some, few sad. And the cotton you have observed in its rude state…you may now watch as in a moment it is tinted with beautiful colours or printed with fanciful patterns.

(Benjamin Disraeli, Coningsby, or The New Generation (1844))

The contrast between these two contemporary ‘descriptions’ of factory work in the 1840s illustrates from fiction the point made by a recent historian discussing ‘the languages of factory reform’: that ‘the factory was a concentrated metaphor for hopes and fears about the direction and pace of industrial change’ (Gray 1987:143). And the significance of these two interpretations of the factory metaphor has implications for the whole subject of how social class is represented in the first half of the nineteenth century. Since these are largely ignored in literary criticism, I wish to elaborate them before addressing

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