Academic journal article The Gaskell Journal

Fiction Illuminated by Reportage: Mary Barton and Léon Faucher's Etudes Sur l'Angleterre

Academic journal article The Gaskell Journal

Fiction Illuminated by Reportage: Mary Barton and Léon Faucher's Etudes Sur l'Angleterre

Article excerpt

In their lists of suggested further reading', most editors of Mary Barton include contemporary accounts of Manchester in the 1840s. Prominent among these is Manchester in 1844 (1844),1 a translation of two articles written by the French liberal journalist Léon Faucher (1803-54).2 The essays formed two of a nine-part series - on London, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham - entitled 'Etudes sur l'Angleterre' published in the Revue des deux mondes between October 1843 and July 1844. A revised and expanded version of this serialisation appeared in volume form in 1845,3 the same year as The Condition of the Working Class in England in which Engels spoke approvingly of the Frenchman's studies.4 Whereas much criticism has included comparison of Gaskell with Engels,5 there has been no equivalent survey of Faucher and Gaskell. Literary critics have tended to use Faucher as a framing mechanism for discussing Gaskell's social realism,6 whilst historians have sifted Etudes sur l'Angleterre for documentary evidence of condi- tions in early Victorian Manchester.7 This study aims to examine the ways in which Faucher s essays on the condition of England develop our understanding of Mary Barton, focusing on how the respective authors read the industrial city, the attitude they adopt vis-à-vis labour and capital, and the critical reception they encountered.

Were one to take at face value Gaskell's disclaimer about her knowledge of political economy which appears in the preface to Mary Barton, Faucher would be dubbed her opposite. An expert in monetary and financial policy, he had turned down the offer of a chair in political economy at the Collège de France in order to pursue a career in the National Assembly, to which he was elected at the fourth attempt in 1846. His experience as a writer, too, differed markedly from that of Gaskell. He had taken up journalism following the 1830 Revolution, had achieved prominence as editor of the Courrier Français, a national daily that supported the monarchist opposition and had written widely on British and French politics and society in the Revue des deux mondes. By the time he arrived in Manchester in July 1843, his reputation as an outspoken political commentator and ardent Anglophile had preceded him. Whereas socio-economic surveys of Britain in the 1840s by Continental visitors such as Engels, Eugène Buret, Jacob Venedey and Gustaf Höfken8 were habitually ignored by the press and publishing houses, Faucher was the great exception: his reception was immediate, wide-ranging and overwhelmingly posi- tive. Extracts from, and partial translation of, the original articles were followed by reviews of Etudes sur l'Angleterre in newspapers, magazines and periodicals.9 His work stimulated debate in the 'letters' pages of the Manchester Guardian,10 and its acclaim on the Continent was reported in the Critic.11 The exceptional attention given to Faucher may also be attributed to the extensive contacts he had cultivated with the British Establishment since the 1830s. Henry Reeve was his key informant and his most prolific English correspondent,12 but Gaskell does not appear to have met him until the 1850s.13 However, other members of Fauch er s network were part of Gaskell's circle at the time she was writing Mary Barton (1845-47), including the Liberal MP William Ewart, the economist George Richardson Porter, as well as two members of Cross Street Chapel, Dr Southwood Smith and Edwin Chadwick, both authorities on public health. All four had assisted Faucher in his research, Ewart supplying him with 'invaluable information' about Liverpool14 and Southwood Smith taking him on a guided tour of the slums of Whitechapel (EA1, p. 11). What is more, during his brief visit to Manchester Faucher was believed to have been a guest of'one of the most philanthropic manufacturers of the neighbourhood',15 and the English translation of his articles, sponsored by the Manchester Athenaeum, was entrusted to J.P. Culverwell, a founding member of the Athenaeum and a member of Cross Street Chapel. …

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