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The Literature of England's Industrial Revolution

Updated on December 11, 2010

 

England’s Industrial Revolution began in the mid-18th century and had a profound impact on history, and especially on literature. From all the suffering caused by the rise of the factories, one good thing did emerge – a new form of literature, based on the common man and imagination.

 

Before the Industrial Revolution, England was a land of small farms and cottage industries. Most of the country folk lived on a few acres and grew vegetables, grains, and a few head of livestock. Their cattle and sheep usually grazed in communal pastures owned by the state. The cottage industries were small family-run businesses that produced goods like candles, lace, clothing apparel, pottery, wheels, wagons, leather items, and other articles used on an everyday basis by the general population. On weekends and market days, the cottage industry owners took their wares to town to sell.

 

Of course, none of the owners of these cottage industries became wealthy from their small businesses, but they were able to survive. They grew much of their own food, and when they needed something they couldn’t grow or make themselves, they either sold something to earn the money to buy what they needed, or they used the barter system.

 

Once the factories began mass producing such items, the cottage industries were put out of business. Factories could produce the goods faster and cheaper, so the home business owners were put out of work and left with no income. They had little choice but to move to the big industrialized cities like London or Liverpool to find employment in the very factories that put them out of business.

 

The Industrial Revolution also had a profound impact on small farmers. The communal grazing lands that had provided much of the food for their cattle and sheep were taken over by the state and turned into private hunting lands for the aristocracy. Since the poor farmers now had no way to feed their livestock, they were put out of business, too – just like the cottage industries. And like the home business owners, the farmers had little choice but to move to the cities to work in the factories.

 

For those who refused to leave their homes, or for those who couldn’t find factory work, their only other choice was to go on public welfare, referred to as “the dole.”

 

Conditions in the factories and in the cities that supported them were deplorable. Employees had to work long hours, six days a week, in dangerous conditions. The government turned a blind eye to all this, and a policy of laissez-faire was followed. “Laissez-faire” is French for “let them do as they please.” In other words, there was no government intervention in the running of the factories. It seems as long as the factories were adequately producing, the state cared nothing about the workers. Safety laws and child labor laws were nonexistent.

 

The living conditions of most of the factory workers were crowded and filthy. Several families might share the same flat, and more than a hundred individuals often had to share a toilet. When the Window Tax was imposed, the workers couldn’t even afford fresh air or sunlight. Windows were nailed shut and painted over to avoid paying the tax. Most factory workers lived and worked in utter misery, seeing no escape from their drudgery.

 

Poets like William Blake detested the Industrial Revolution, and many of his poems echoed this sentiment. Other poets followed his lead. In 1798, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge emerged on the scene when they published a book of poems entitled Lyrical Ballads. The two young writers broke with the writing traditions of the past by focusing on the common people and on the imaginative powers of the human mind. They spoke to and for the factory workers and others who felt helpless and powerless. They also drew attention to the plight of the downtrodden and abused, which gradually led to improved working and living conditions.

 

 

 

 

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    • profile image

      jenni 5 years ago

      ummmm i think is very ogly haa

    • profile image

      alexia 5 years ago

      ia une istory very nice and importante for the people and une good exemplo for the usa.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Karanda, many thanks. When you teach the same thing several times a day for years, it's hard to forget!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Garnet, I love Brit history!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      tlpoague, thanks for reading!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      right, HH. From the Industrial Revolution through that period you refer to was terrible for many Brits!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Rob. All this was from memory - I taught this stuff for years.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Mick, so am I. I also love the barter system!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Mikey, yours was good, too!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Betty, I taught it so long that I have it memorized!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Ray. The window tax was terrible!

      Laurel, don't give our congresscritters any ideas! lol

    • Karanda profile image

      Karen Wilton 7 years ago from Australia

      Amazing that you could write this in 30 minutes, even if you did spend years teaching the material.

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 7 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      Very nice Hub. Love UK history.

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 7 years ago from USA

      Great hub! This reminds me of the Norman Rockwell paintings. He painted about a life he wished he could live.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      I think that period right up to Second World War was the biggest exploitation mankind ever saw. Especially in England. They had an Empire and look how they treated the people. The slums were absolutely unbelievable. I don't know how ever anybody could have survived there for one day.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Excellent Hub, Habee. Nicely researched.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      Beautiful write. I'm for more cottage industries!

    • Mikeydoes profile image

      Mikeydoes 7 years ago from Fl,IL,IND

      Very great hub! Puts my 30 minute one to shame!

    • Betty Reid profile image

      Betty Reid 7 years ago from Texas

      Wow, you wrote this in 30 minutes! You must really know your stuff. Very impressive!

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 7 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Window tax? Sounds like something modern day politicos would come up with!

      Great job, Holle!

    • Cagsil profile image

      Cagsil 7 years ago from USA or America

      Very nicely written Habee. Awesome work in 30 minutes. :) The windows tax is funny too. I had to laugh. Thank you for sharing. :)

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Shady. I taught this stuff for years! lol

    • Shadesbreath profile image

      Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California

      lol @ window tax. Nice world to live in, eh? (Seriously nice and very tidy work for the 30 minute challenge to0... you are a writing machine!)

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      It was VERY unhealthy!

    • WryLilt profile image

      Susannah Birch 7 years ago from Toowoomba, Australia

      Window tax? I'd never heard of that. Sounds ridiculous and unhealthy!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Love to you, too!

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

      gorgeous article Habee!! love to you!!

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