The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century in Great Britain. It was only the first stepping-stone to the modern economic growth that is still growing to this day. With this new bustling economic power force Britain was able to become one of the strongest nations.While the nation was changing so was the way that literature was written. The Industrial Revolution led to a variety of new social concerns such as politics and economic issues. With the shift away from nature toward this new mechanical world there came a need to remind the people of the natural world. This is where Romanticism came into play; it was a way to bring back the urban society that was slowly disappearing into cities.
Causes of the Industrial Revolution:
- The Agricultural Revolution: Between 1750 and 1900 Europe’s population was dramatically increasing, so it became necessary to change the way that food was being produced, in order to make way for this change. The Enclosure Movement and the Norfolk Crop Rotation were instilled before the Industrial Revolution;they were both involved in the separation of land, and the latter dealt more with developing different sections to plant different crops in order to reduce the draining of the land. The fact that more land was being used and there weren’t enough workers it became necessary to create power-driven machines to replace manual labor.
- Socioeconomic changes: Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the European economy was based on agriculture. From the aristocrats, to the farmers, they were linked by land and crops. The wealthy land owners would rent land to the farmers who would in turn grow and sell crops. This exchange was an enormous part of how the economy ran. With the changes that came with the Industrial revolution, people began leaving their farms and working in the cities. The new technologies forced people into the factories and a capitalistic sense of living began. The revolution moved economic power away from the aristocratic population and into the bourgeoisie (the middle class).
|Photograph by Lewis Hine|
The working conditions in the factories during the Industrial Revolution were unsafe, unsanitary and inhumane. The workers, men, women, and children alike, spent endless hours in the factories working. The average hours of the work day were between 12 and 14, but this was never set in stone. In “Chapters in the Life of a Dundee Factory Boy”, Frank Forrest said about the hours “In reality there were no regular hours, masters and managers did with us as they liked. The clocks in the factories were often put forward in the morning and back at night. Though this was known amongst the hands, we were afraid to speak, and a workman then was afraid to carry a watch” (Forrest, 1950). The factory owners were in charge of feeding their workers, and this was not a priority to them. Workers were ofter forced to eat while working, and dust and dirt contaminated their food. The workers ate oat cakes for breakfast and dinner. They were rarely given anything else, despite the long hours. Although the food was often unfit for consumption, the workers ate it due to severe hunger.
During this time of economic change and population increase, the controversial issue of child labor came to industrial Britain. The mass of children, however, were not always treated as working slaves, but they were actually separated into two groups. The factories consisted of the “free labour children” and the “parish apprentice children.” The former being those children whose lives were more or less in the hands of their parents; they lived at home, but they worked in the factories during the days because they had to. It was work or die of starvation in this case, and their families counted on them to earn money. Fortunately these children weren’t subjected to extremely harsh working conditions because their parents had some say in the matter. Children who fell into the “parish apprentice” group were not as lucky; this group mainly consisted of orphans or children without families who could sufficiently care for them. Therefore, they fell into the hands of government officials, so at that point their lives as young children turned into those of slaves or victims with no one or nothing to stand up for them. So what was it exactly that ended this horror? Investments in machinery soon led to an increase in wages for adults, making it possible for child labor to end, along with some of the poverty that existed. The way that the Industrial Revolution occurred may have caused some controversial issues, but the boost in Britain’s economy certainly led toward the country becoming such a powerful nation.
Video on child labor during the Industrial Revolution
When a society finds that it must become an industrialized one, to build factories bigger, with higher production value, to replace the connection they had with Mother Nature with machines, it is also expected that society’s authors and scholars will seek to define new philosophical ideals. For example, while novelists like Charles Dickens warned society of the consequences associated with abandoning human emotion and adopting the way of the machine in novels like Hard Times, poets like William Wordsworth wondered where the introspective artist belongs in a time known as the “Mechanical Age.” Surely, just as the Watts steam engine sought to redefine expectations of an industrialized society, the British literati searched for a new perspective inside Romanticism that would explain the switch between appreciation of man and a newfound reliance on the machine.
The most intellectual scholars and authors of England expressed an early interest in the rationality and preciseness of science. This quickly changed, however, when Romantics came to view this evolution of machine as a threat to the individual (Gale). In “Preface to the Second Edition of ‘Lyrical Ballads’”, Wordsworth proclaimed that as technology moves ever closer to being at the forefront of culture, the mind is reduced “to a state of almost savage torpor.” Similarly, Dickens’s Hard Times presented the reader with a very valid portrayal of industrial towns that appear as wastelands inhabited by the working class.
Hine, Lewis. “Doffers at Bib Mill No. 1, Macon, Georgia 1909.” National Archives Record Service
Forrest, Frank (1850). Chapters in the Life of a Dundee Factory Boy. An Autobiography.
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