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What did working-class men and women read during the Industrial Revolution?

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Introduction

What did working-class men and women read during the Industrial Revolution? The Industrial Revolution that came about in the early and mid-nineteenth century, affected many areas of English intellectual and cultural life; it changed the nature of many of the current disciplines, and brought forward the existence of new ones. Literature was an issue that was highly subjected to industrialism. According to Catherine Gallagher, narrative fiction, especially novels, underwent changes whenever they became a part of the discourse over industrialism. Concurrently, the urban and industrial working classes had a huge impact in Victorian fiction; the different types of working-class men and women, along with their working and living environments were used to portray the lives of the working class. During the nineteenth century, a significant number of novelists attempted to present the working class in fiction. According to Thackeray in 1838, the working-class communities in particular towns had formed their own distinct culture and literature. 'It was not just a continuation of the old popular cultures which expressed themselves in broadsheets, chapbooks, and popular drama-it was new, and had formed itself in the past decade. It was quite cut off from the middle and upper classes.' 1 This culture had been formed by the Enclosure Acts and by the Industrial Revolution. It was about this time that the term "the poor" was referred to as "the working classes." ...read more.

Middle

An estimated 20,000 copies were being circulated throughout England each week. The Penny Magazine was first issued in March 1832 sold 50,000 in the first week, and by the end of the year had 200,000 copies in circulation. Although the Society had been formed in 1827 for upper-class readers, the scientific and historical composition which also included some poetry was largely bought by the lower classes. It was known that working class labourers would go without food to buy it. Although there were no major publishers in the district, each town did have their own minor printers and publishers. Apart form the middle-class booksellers, there was a network of lower-class newsagents throughout the country, primarily to distribute illegal political periodicals such as The Poor Man's Guardian. By 1851, the number of such periodicals sold by provincial agents was considerable. An estimated 75,000 copies were being handled every week. Eventually, The Mechanics' Institute and the educative periodicals lost their appeal to the main body of the lower classes, working men continued to educate themselves, and periodicals such as Cassell's Working Man's Friend catered for those who wished to read it. Lower classes were also open to literature of the lowest taste. The best-known semi-pornographic publication of this time was probably Renton Nicholson's The Town (1837-1840). It included descriptions of public houses, music halls, brothels and ladies of pleasure. ...read more.

Conclusion

They contained accounts that contrast drunken, lazy men with honest, heroic working-class fathers; thus they were seen as an influencing factor in many of the lower classes lives. Overall, it can be said that the working-class played a large part in the Victorian fiction. Such fiction enabled readers to view life from a working-class citizen's point of view. Some novels described cross-sections of English society in which the working classes are inferior; Dickens's early novels represented this. He brought a new intimacy and strength into writing and although few lower-class readers read Dickens direct, he was a central novelist in the development of cheap popular literature for the lower classes. Romance in novels is usually represented through a direct relationship between the very rich and the poor; a popular example within working-class women was Renton Nicholson's Dombey and Daughter (1850). The non-romantic novel set in a working-class environment on the other hand, represents the structure and reality of working-class life. Endnotes > 1) JAMES, L. Fiction for the Working Man 1830-50 (London: Penguin, 1974) p1. > 2) JAMES, L. Fiction for the Working Man 1830-50 (London: Penguin, 1974) p4. > 3) JAMES, L. Fiction for the Working Man 1830-50 (London: Penguin, 1974) p5. > 4) JAMES, L. Fiction for the Working Man 1830-50 (London: Penguin, 1974) p9. > 5) JAMES, L. Fiction for the Working Man 1830-50 (London: Penguin, 1974) p6. > 6) GALLAGHER, S. The Industrial Reformation of English fiction 1832-67. (Chicago and London) p127. > 7) GALLAGHER, S. The Industrial Reformation of English fiction 1832-67. (Chicago and London) p129. ...read more.

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