HARD TIMES, "WORK", AND THE INFLUENCE OF THOMAS CARLYLE Emily G. Gill Asheville High School Asheville, NC NEH Summer Seminar 2000 Historical Interpretations of the Industrial Revolution in Britain University of Massachusetts Dartmouth at the University of Nottingham The novel Hard Times and the mural painting "Work" depict a crosssection of English society during the British Industrial Revolution in the midnineteenth century. The novel, written by Dickens in 1854, and the painting, painted by Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown from 1852-1865, portray two new and distinct social orders in England: the rising middle class and the working poor. Both of these classes are a result of industrialization and a redistribution of land, goods, and services. Dickens and Brown offer the viewer an artistic study of these emerging social classes during the Industrial Revolution. The former polarity of the two-class system of aristocracy and poor agricultural laborer was quickly becoming a thing of the past. The wide-spread use of the steam engine brought agricultural workers, seeking a better life, from the farms to work in the large factories. Many cities like Manchester quickly became overpopulated and the workers lived in substandard conditions and 2 filth. Meanwhile, factory owners, managers, and bank proprietors, like Dickens's Bounderby, flourished during this time. England was in the midst of both social and economic revolution. Thomas Carlyle, a social philosopher and contemporary of Brown and Dickens, was highly critical of the ills brought on by the surge of migration to the cities. Carlyle's theories of social reform guided the work of both Dickens's in Hard Times and Madox Brown in "Work". In fact, a portrait of a smirking Carlyle is located in the lower right corner of the painting "Work", while Hard Times is dedicated to Carlyle. Thomas Carlyle was born in 1795 in the midst of the British Industrial Revolution. People were on the move. The steam engine, the spinning jenny, and the flying shuttle had speeded the production of cloth so drastically that farmers, who made extra income in the evenings weaving at home, were priced out of the market. As market prices for cloth and food fell, farmers were forced to leave the countryside and seek work in the city mills. Separated from family, friends, church, and community, they did not thrive. In his book Thomas Carlyle , Walter Waring notes: Although the plight of the new laboring class - for that was what they were destined to become - was widely recognized, neither the local nor the national government was any better able to deal with the problem of mass movement than was the church. No precedent pointed the way to the solution of public welfare in the new society (12). This new poor class worked long days doing monotonous, dangerous jobs. "Seemingly abandoned by the church and state, the laboring class had no place in the existing social structure" (Waring 12). They lived in substandard, unsanitary conditions and had poor food and ineffective medical facilities. Further, they were seen as "outsiders" by city dwellers. 3 Unlike the cottage weavers, workers in the factories felt no connection to what they were producing. The master of the factory paid the worker for a job completed, and the relationship of the worker and master ended there. The work was no longer rewarding, as on the family farm. There was no sense of ownership or of responsibility toward the product. Thus, workers felt alienated from the product they were producing. Further, factory owners were not concerned about the lives of the people. The owner saw the worker as a replaceable entity, and the workers knew it. Owners, in their denial, believed they did workers a favor. The lure of the money to be made in the factory was great. In Hard Times, Bounderby explains it best: I'll state the fact of it to you. It's the pleasantest work there is, and it's the lightest work there is, and its the best-paid work there is. More than that, we couldn't improve the mills themselves, unless we laid downTurkey carpets on the floors. Which we're not a-going to do" (113). In his essays, Carlyle responded to the conditions of factory workers in emotional tones: "He so deplored the social changes that appeared with the machine age that even the word machine held evil connotations for him" (Waring 18). He attacked the philosophy of Utilitarianism, since he saw it as the ruin of the English people. Ruth Glancy, in The Student Companion to Charles Dickens, explains the Theory of Utility in this way. The philosophy has two main points: 1) because the individual is not naturally inclined to do good works or make choices for the good of the community, laws must be enacted that put the community first; 2) the "pain and pleasure principle" measured the rightness or wrongness of an action by determining the majority of people who would benefit from a particular decision. Thus, many Victorians in the middle class justified "self-interest as a justification for greed and self-indulgence" (92). Carlyle's views on art were also in direct conflict with the current theory of Utilitarianism. He believed that the church and the government had 4 abandoned their responsibility for these relocated workers. Poets, writers, and philosophers, such as Wordsworth, better able to recognize the misery of the workers, began to talk about nature and brotherhood as a way to escape the loneliness and isolation of mill life (Waring 14). Glancy notes that in the view of the Utilitarian, "painting and music were valuable only if they led to important social ends. Followers of Utilitarianism in the Department of Practical Arts, disapproved of flowers or their decorations on carpets that took away from the carpet's flatness" (92). In Hard Times, Sissy innocently refutes this notion when she explains why she likes flowers on carpets: "If you please, Sir, I am very fond of flowers" (6). Finally, the philosophy of Utilitarianism promotes the idea that a reliance on statistics is the best way to improve human affairs. Statistics, as Dickens proves, can be used to prove almost anything, no matter if the results are absurd. Currently, this philosophy is reflected by politicians who rely on the often absurd results of student testing as statistical proof that students are being educated! Dickens wrote the novel Hard Times in response to what he perceived as the general degradation of society through the measurement of human emotion and a refusal to acknowledge the imagination as a vital part of human experience. Dickens explained his intention for Hard Times in a letter to a friend: "My satire is against those who see figures and averages, and nothing else - the representatives of the wickedest and most enormous vice of this time - the men who, through long years to come, will do more to damage the real useful truths of political economy, than I could do (if I tried) in my whole life" (Glancy 93). In Hard Times, Mr. Gradgrind, the school master, and his school represent a system that values hard facts over imagination and compassion. Each of his children is educated in his school of facts. Facts are the only worthy subject of 5 study in school. "Fact, fact, fact!" Gradgrind intones in the chapter aptly named "Murdering the Innocents". The Gradgrind children are the model students of a model school. They are given no toys, and they never read literature or stories. They live in a world where the nursery is a laboratory, and "the specimens are all arranged and labeled" (9) in their little cabinets. No little Gradgrind had ever associated a cow in a field with that famous cow with the crumpled horn who tossed the dog who worried the cat who killed the rat who ate the malt. . . .It had never heard of those celebrities, and had only been introduced to a cow as a graminivorous ruminating quadruped with several stomachs (8). Louisa, Gradgrind's daughter, is a model student and a product of her father's education. She has no understanding of or language to express her need for love, play, or friendship. The result is that she spends much of her time staring out of the window or into the fire. Lousia's life, while full of useful information, is not illuminating. Thus, symbolically, she constantly stares into the fire or out of the window into the burning fires of Coketown's factories. Dickens describes her as lacking imagination, although the reader realizes she yearns for it. Perhaps she detects the beauty of fire more than the fact of the fire, the burning and licking of flames in asymetrical order. The reader gets the impression that her imagination is starved when early in the novel she peeps into the world of "fancy" in the circus tent. Her starving imagination is further evidenced by her relationships with both Sissy Jupe (the circus girl) and James Harthouse (rhymes with hothouse). Tom Gradgrind, Louisa's brother, is evidence that an education in hard fact does not address the moral side of existence or the human spirit. Thus, Tom has not developed as a whole person. He does not have (or cannot understand) the integrity it takes to withstand the temptation to steal from Bounderby, his employer. Earlier, he selfishly encourages Louisa to marry Bounderby to enrich 6 his own position at the bank. It never occurs to Tom that Louisa's life will be miserable with Bounderby, because misery is not measurable. Josiah Bounderby, Louisa's husband, is the most contemptible character in the novel. He embodies every characteristic of the unfeeling rising middle class. He sees factory workers as the "wretches" who will advance his own personal cause for financial gain and his movement into the upper classes. Although he protests loudly and often that he is a self-made man who has no use for upperclass pretensions, the reader detects that indeed he intends to elevate himself in this way. He has acquired a housekeeper, a bank, two houses, and a trophy wife half his age. He even projects his desire for the accoutrements of aristocracy onto the workers when he states that the ultimate object of the worker in Coketown is "to be fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon" (113). The reader understands that Bounderby is a fool. Because Bounderby believes his own lie that he is a self-made man, he feels justified in being selfabsorbed and arrogant. He is made the fool further when he loses Louisa as a result of his total lack of compassion. Stretching the limits of middle-class values, Bounderby believes he can buy love with money. At the end of the novel, he reflects in self-absorption on his own portrait, wondering if he will be remembered for his house, his buildings, his chapel: "Probably not. Yet the portrait was to see it all out" (266). Dickens clearly shows that his sympathies lie with the working poor and the circus performers in the novel. More specifically, Stephen Blackpool, Rachel, and Sissy Jupe are characters who have goodness of heart and are humane and humble. These characters, despite their obvious lack of resources, take care of others, and their goodness of character contrasts sharply with those more fortunate in the middle class. Although Sissy (short for sister) moves into the 7 Gradgrind house as an orphan, she improves Louisa's life considerably by giving her a friend and, ironically, a sense of family. Sissy does not question the validity of her education, nor does it ever manage to destroy her goodness or imagination. These characters also make humane choices, as in the choice Rachel makes to stop Stephen's crazed and alcoholic wife from killing herself, despite what Rachel and Stephen have to gain by it. Stephen Blackpool receives the brunt of the social inequality of the capitalist system in Coketown. He is a hard-working and honest man, but because he is poor, he is an easy scapegoat on which to blame the theft at the bank. Facts alone are not enough for Bounderby to look past his own class elitism to identify the real thief, Tom Gradgrind. Bounderby had mistreated Stephen as an employee, and he is seen hanging around the bank the night before the robbery. Stephen later returns to town to prove his innocence in the robbery, but falls down a mine shaft and dies pointing the finger at Tom. Symbolically, the setting of Coketown depicts the large industrial cities of England, like Manchester, that Dickens detests. Coketown represents the worst of English industrial towns in the nineteenth century in terms of what it did to its people. The Gradgrind home is aptly named Stone Lodge, and the Gradgrind school is a place of hard facts and straight rows. Bounderby's bank is at the center of the town, and his ostentatious house, characterized the portrait over the fireplace and over-eating in the dining room, is on a hill where it can be seen by everyone in the town. Perhaps Dickens's most vivid portrayal of life in a mill town is the mill itself at the core of the city, its description alluding to poet William Blake's "dark, satanic mill". Its prominent features include smoke stacks spumming "languid and monotonous smoke" and fire that "bursts out". Stephen and Rachel walk in darkness going to and coming from work. In the mill, they work in drudgery 8 like the spirits of Dante's inferno. There is no light in their lives. Even their apartments are dark and cramped when they get home in the evening. There is also the implication that since the building is made of brick, it was built quickly, and another mill can quickly be built in another town. Dickens and Carlyle were reacting to several notions which were prevalent in Victorian thought during the height of the Industrial Revolution in England, one of which was that the greatest good was accomplished for the greatest number. Ford Madox Brown, a Pre-Raphaelite painter and contemporary of Dickens and Carlyle, explored similar themes in a mural painting called "Work". Brown examined a misguided view of self-reliance: citizens, because their worth was attributed to their own means, had no obligation to others in society. This enraged Dickens and Carlyle as well, as those especially in need were "under the noses" of those of wealth and power. "Work" is a conglomeration of every possible level of society that can be squeezed into a single scene. According to Ford M. Hueffer in Ford Madox Brown: A Record of His Life and Work, all that characters seem to share in common is the street and the weather (189). Each person is reacting to the scene in a manner appropriate to his or her station in life. Specifically, they are ladies and gentlemen, laborers, homeless children, tradesmen, shop keepers, and sales people. The objects in the painting also illustrate what all these people have in common: vegetables, tools, buildings, signage, beer, and pets. Brown wrote a sonnet to accompany the painting: Work! which beads the brow and tans the flesh Of lusty manhood, casting out its devils! By whose weird art, transmuting poor men's evils their bed seems down, the one dish ever fresh, Ah me! For lack of it what ills in leash Hold us. Its want the pale mechanic levels To workhouse depths, while Master Spendthrift revels 9 For want to work, the fiends soon him immesh. Ah! beauteous tripping dame with bell like skirts Intent on they small scarlet-coated hound Are ragged wayside babes not lovesome too? Untrained their state reflects on they deserts Or they grow noisome beggars to abound, Or dreaded midnight robbers, breaking through. "Work" is arguably the most complex of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings and the most significant Victorian image of labor. Visually, the painting is organized into social types or hierarchies. The focus of the painting is of several navvies digging a trench for a water main and a central character, a strong, young man, shoveling debris from the hole. A beer seller passes by yelling "Beer, Ho!" (according to Brown's own narrative notes). On the other side, passing closely on a temporary wooden walkway, is a bare-footed herb seller, peeking out warily from underneath his torn hat brim. Behind him, a woman with a blue parasol and a lady and her daughter pass by. The lady throws a temperance tract at a navvy who is "chugging" a beer while he works. In other parts of the painting, a gentleman and his daughter return from an afternoon ride and find the street blocked, an orange seller is pushed down by a policeman as her oranges tumble into the street, and some migrant farm workers feed a baby under a shade tree. In the front of the painting, a young girl, a street urchin of about ten, in a dress too large for her, carries a baby with one hand and reaches out to pull the ear of her misbehaving brother with the other. In front of the them, the lady's Italian greyhound growls at the mongrel mutt belonging to the street children. Thomas Carlyle, featured in the lower right corner of the painting, glances sardonically at the viewer as if to say, "There is perennial nobleness, and even sacredness, in work" (Barringer 100). Brown creates sharp contrasts throughout the painting, such as the navvies digging the trench beside the middle-class ladies passing by who do no 10 work of note. Tim Barringer in Reading the Pre-Raphaelites notes that even the dogs contribute to the class warfare. Brown's social analysis. .[reveals] . .a pugnacious puppy in the foreground, a working dog who kills rats for the navvies. . . confrontingthe middle-class lady's lapdog, which has disturbed a pile of sand. A shaggy mongrel belongs to the urchins in the foreground, sharing their social status, while at the rear, a hunting dog can just be discerned, in front of its aristocratic mistress's horse, gasping in the heat"(98). Teresa Newman and Raymond Watkinson in Ford Madox Brown note that Brown's object was to delineate types, not individuals "though the characters are generally based on real people that he knew" (117). Brown also wrote a text in which many of the characters are attributed with specific lines of dialogue and conversations between each other. Signage is also important, as it reflects what is important to people of differing social strata. He also questions the characters in specific ways that he perhaps believes the viewer should: Did the lady with the greyhound notice the needs of the ragged children? No. She was probably most concerned about her dog getting dirty. The novel Hard Times and the mural painting "Work" portray a crosssection of types of individuals in English society during the British Industrial Revolution and offer current social commentary that is fueled by Carlyle's criticisms of social ills. While Dickens and Brown offer the reader/viewer an artistic study of these emerging social classes, their works generate a variety of questions for the attentive reader and viewer. Most importantly, they ask their audiences to decide whether society has any level of responsibility to the poor. Certainly, the answer is yes. Although Dickens and Brown do not offer solutions to the sufferings of the poor working classes, they may be credited with illustrating the problems of the day which the upper and middle classes chose not to recognize. 11 12 Works Cited Barringer, Tim. Reading the Pre-Raphaelites. London: Yale University Press, 1999. Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1960. Glancy, Ruth. The Student Companion to Charles Dickens. London: Press, 1999. Greenwood Hueffer, Ford M. Ford Madox Brown: A Record of His Life and Work. London: Longmans, Green Publications, 1896. Newman, Teresa, and Raymond Watkinson. Ford Madox Brown and the PreRaphaelite Circle. London: Chatto & Windus, Inc., 1991. Waring, Walter. Thomas Carlyle. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978. Additional Sources Brown, Ivor. Dickens in His Time. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd., 1963. Brown, Ivor. Dickens and His World. New York: Henry Z. Walck, Inc., 1970. Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. New York: A Signet Classic, New American Library, 1961.