Hard Times 2: Preston Lock Out

October 29, 2009 at 11:38 am (Nineteenth-century novel, Uncategorized)

A pendant to my earlier Hard Times post, I’ve just found (online) this lovely cache of three hand-drawn and coloured contemporary cartoons of the Preston Lock Out. They’re owned by the Lancashire Evening Post, and this is what their website says about them:

One of five [er, actually three] cartoons produced during a strike by cotton workers in Preston, Lancashire in 1853 and 1854. The strike resulted in a lock-out by the employers and Irish workers were brought in to break the strike by the larger mill owners. These workers, who appear to be mostly women and children, are caricatured as lazy and ignorant with Irish accents. After the strike was settled, they were sent back to Ireland.

These people, ‘scabs’ in modern parlance, were called ‘knobsticks’ in the idiom of the day. You may not be able to make out the writing below, but if you click on this link [pdf] you can have a detailed look at big enlargements of all the cartoons.
preston lock out cartoon
This, the legend at the foot of the image tells us, is ‘THE WARPING AND WINDING ROOM HANOVER ST MILL’ The chap on the left in the top-hat is called ‘THE MASTER’ and he says: ‘I am quizzing you, my beauties’. The fellow in green is ‘THE OVERLOOKER’, and is saying (presumably to the little boy in red who’s shinned up the loom): ‘I say you young devil come down you are sure to be kilt’. And the red-haired woman is saying: ‘Sure a now the devils skure to yes Mike come down wid yes’.

Here’s another, sadly in black and white (you can see the full colour version at the pdf link mentioned above):
lock-out 2
You can see he’s pulling stick-figure workers out of a container labelled ‘a box full of new knobsticks’. Fascinating stuff. Incidentally, I’m not aware of any critical work on this (this fairly well-known article, ‘Dickens, Gaskell and the Preston Strike’, doesn’t mention it, for instance): it might make a nice topic, or at least a nice angle, for a Hard Times essay …) [AR]

Permalink Leave a Comment

Hard Times

October 27, 2009 at 1:52 pm (Nineteenth-century novel)

Hard Times for the Gradgrind children
Tomorrow’s novel class (the last before reading week) is on Hard Times, of which novel it is probably fair to say: CD’s contemporaries thought little of it, though Leavis and later critics have loved it! To quote Grahame Smith:

Even in the general climate of disappointment generated by the later, so-called ‘dark’ novels, Hard Times stands out in the meagre response it elicited from Victorian reviewers and in the lack of serious consdieration it had received until the middle of the twentieth-century. It was admired by a great contemporary, John Ruskin, and found a passionate advocate in George Bernard Shaw at a later stage, but it had to wait until 1948 for a full-scale rehabilitation, although of a qualified kind, by F R Leavis in The Great Tradition. Leavis praise the novel for the absence of those very qualities which to many readers have seemed most Dickensian: that is, richness of detail, comic exuberance and an apparently cavalier attitude to the more rigorous aspects of literary form. … Leavis’s revaluation paved the way for later appreciations which have grasped that the intense seriousness of the novel’s critique of its social world is not, in fact, incompatible with the linguistic energy and comic verve that seem so central to Dickens’s achievement. There is exuberance here, too, and although its brevity precludes the large-scale structural complexity of Bleak House and Little Dorrit, the brilliance of Hard Times‘s pared-down language is hardly less impressive in its wit and variety.

Here are a few links that you might find useful, in terms of getting a handle on the novel: you’re not required to read them before class, but they might help. Utilitarianism is usually seen as an important context for Hard Times; as is Industrialism. Dickens claimed he conceived and started writing the novel before the Preston Lock-out, but it’s good to have a sense of what that example of loggerheads industrial relations entailed. Some interesting articles:

Philip Collins ‘Dickens and Industrialism’, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 (20:4, Autumn, 1980), pp. 651-673

Patricia Ingham, ‘Realism’: Hard Times and the Industrial Novel, Review of English Studies (n.s. 37: 148; Nov., 1986), pp. 518-527

K. J. Fielding and Anne Smith ‘Hard Times and the Factory Controversy: Dickens vs. Harriet Martineau’, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 24, No. 4, The Charles Dickens Centennial (March 1970), pp. 404-427

Stephen J. Spector, ‘Monsters of Metonymy: Hard Times and Knowing the Working Class’, ELH (51: 2; Summer, 1984), pp. 365-384

That last one picks up on what we were saying in last week’s core course class about metaphor and metonomy … [AR]

Permalink 1 Comment

David Copperfield and Fairy Stories

October 27, 2009 at 1:06 pm (Uncategorized)

Just, briefly, to draw your attention to a brief post on Dickens and Fairy Tales occasioned by a stimulating seminar discussion on that very topic with the undergraduate third-year ‘Dickens Special Option’ crowd. I’ve just posted it at The Valve. [AR]

Permalink Leave a Comment

Victorian Zombies

October 27, 2009 at 1:01 pm (Uncategorized)

I think we can file this post under ‘shameless self-publicity’: but I’m just shameless enough to go along with that. I Am Scrooge, a mash-up Christmas Carol and Zombie novel, is in the shops now. You could buy a copy if you liked. I wouldn’t mind.

What’s that? You want to know what the reviews say? Well, I’ll tell you: ‘Imagine a historical Shaun of the Dead written with as many bad zombie puns as you can think of – if you’ve got a long memory, add that it’s been written by the I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again team – and you’ve got an idea of the tone … Given that Roberts is a professor of 19th Century literature, it’s hardly surprising that there are multiple references to different stories, some well-known, others obscure … Ranks alongside Blackadder’s Christmas Carol as a great comic take on Dickens.’ [AR]

Permalink Leave a Comment

BL ‘Victorian Values’ event, 20th Nov

October 21, 2009 at 10:32 am (Uncategorized)

Dear MA students,

The British Library is holding a fun night of Victoriana on the evening of the 20th November.


Admission (£7.50) includes the chance to view their Points Of View: Capturing the 19th Century in Photographs exhibition, which includes some materials that Hannah Lewis-Bill, one of last year’s Victorian MA students, worked on as part of her internship at the BL.

Thanks to Hannah for drawing this event to our attention.

All best,


Permalink 1 Comment

On being in love with Steerforth from David Copperfield

October 20, 2009 at 12:08 pm (Nineteenth-century novel)

Did you know that eminent contemporary philosophy Martha Nussbaum has fallen in love (‘rushing into the eager volatility of desire’) with Steerforth, from David Copperfield? No? Then read this essay, ‘Steerforth’s Arm: Love in the Moral Point of View’ from her celebrated collection Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (1990). [If the link doesn’t work for you, either type ‘Steerforth’s Arm’ into the ‘search this book’ box on the left hand side of the page, or else scroll down and click on the ‘contents’ page at the bottom]. [AR]

Permalink 1 Comment

Bleak House I

October 19, 2009 at 9:31 am (Core Course)

This coming Thursday we all step inside the Bleak House.


Hopefully you’ve all read the novel, but for the purposes of seminar discussion I’d like to start out by concentrating on just the first chapter, and in particular on Dickens’s famous descriptions of London mud and London fog.

Now one of the things I’d like to talk about is the function of metaphor and metonomy in the novel.  We’ll go over what these terms mean, and the ways in which they’re useful in reading Bleak House, in the seminar; but if you’re a little rusty on what those two rhetorical devices entail, here’s a brief summary:

Metaphor and metonomy are both modes of saying something by saying something else; but metaphor is a mode of displacement (‘Achilles is a lion’), where a point of similarity (they’re both really brave and fierce) links what are otherwise quite different terms; and metonymy is a mode of association, or contiguity (‘the pen is mightier than the sword’; where the pen stands for ‘writing’ because it is a part of the larger whole). Synecdoche (‘two hundred head of cattle’; ‘a parish of a thousand souls’) is a kind of metonomy. So, to put another way: if you say ‘pen’ to mean ‘writing’ as a whole, it’s clear enough what the logic of the connection is … ‘pen’ has an obvious relationship to ‘writing’. But if you say ‘Achilles is a lion’ you’re linking two very different things — because in almost every respect Achilles is not in the least like a lion (he doesn’t have four legs; he’s not covered in fur; he doesn’t have a tail, etc). The one point of comparison, ‘bravery’, is set against all the dissimilarities. That’s how metaphor works, by a sort of creative dislocation. Here’s another example: Craig Raine, in poetic, metaphoric mode, talks about ‘the onion, memory’. But in what ways is memory like an onion? Mostly we’re struck by the ways memory is not like an onion. Nevertheless, the crucial point of similarity (memory is like an onion because … it makes you cry) is given added heft and point by the dislocating function of the metaphor as a whole.

Hmm. Hope that’s at least partly clear.

What I’m particularly interested in, in terms of reading Dickens, is Roman Jakobson‘s particular take on these two rhetorical terms: Richard Bradford’s Routledge introduction to Jakobson is a good place to start on this (you can start reading some of it [on metaphor and metonomy and ‘The Poetic Function’] at Google books). For a briefer version here’s Columbia.edu’s summary:

The message construction is based on two simultaneous operations*:

  1. Combination (horizontal) – constructing syntactic links; contexture.
    Relation through contiguity, juxtaposition.
    METONYMY – implying time, cause and effect, a chain of successive events
  2. Selection (vertical) – choosing among equivalent options.
    Relation on basis of similarity, substitution, equivalence or contrast; synonym / antonym.
    METAPHOR – implying space, a-temporal connection, simultaneity.

In poetry – the projection of the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection (metaphor) is used as the major means of constructing a sequence (combination; metonym).

This projection, according to Jacobson, is the defining characteristic of poetry, and it expresses itself in rhyme, meter, symmetries, repetitions, motifs.

The dominant mode in the poetic is therefore that of metaphor. Whereas in Prose – the metonym prevails, the chain of events, the plot, successive actions, a sequence of occurrences**.

*The terms METONYMY and METAPHOR are not used as figures of speech but rather as pervasive forces organizing language.

**The opposition is not an absolute one, but rather a mark of a tendency.

I’m interested in the way the novel balances these two approaches, the prosy-connective and the poetic-transcendent, to talk about society, about secrecy, about connection and about disconnection.

Don’t worry if this looks a little dense, written out here. We’ll go into it in greater detail on Thursday. [AR]

Permalink 2 Comments

Dorrit’s circulations, Gothic economics

October 15, 2009 at 4:15 pm (Nineteenth-century novel)

Next week’s Dorrit class (on the novel course) will be about ‘circulation’, the circumlocution office not least.  With that in mind, I wanted to flag up Gail Turley Houston’s relatively new monograph, From Dickens to Dracula: Gothic, Economics, and Victorian Fiction (Cambridge Univ. Press 2007), a very interesting account of the cultural and ‘Gothic’ economics of Bagehot, Marx, Dickens, Stephenson and Stoker, with others along the way. Much of the book is free to read on Google books: enough, anyway, to get a flavour of her argument. The chapter on Dorrit (‘”The Whole Duty of Man”: Circulating Circulation in Dickens’s Little Dorrit) is a particularly fascinating attempt to read the novel via the discourses of capital fluidity and banking. It doesn’t sound fascinating, I accept, when I put it like that; but it is.  At least, it gave me a new perspective on the book when I read it. Plus, isn’t this just the coolest cover? I am envious:

(You’re not required to read this for next week’s class, by the way; but you may find it interesting) [AR]

Permalink Leave a Comment

Little Dorrit and prisons

October 15, 2009 at 11:03 am (Nineteenth-century novel)

Dorrit monthly wrapper

Today’s Novel class, on Little Dorrit, is all about prisons, and the consistently worked-through thematic of imprisonment in the novel. In one sense, nowadays, this may seem an obvious angle on the novel; but in fact it takes its cue from an essay written half a century ago by the American critic Lionel Trilling. Trilling was commissioned to write the introduction to the Oxford Illustrated Dickens; the essay was later reprinted in The Kenyon Review Vol. 15, No. 4 (Autumn, 1953), pp. 577-590 (click that link and you’ll find the whole essay). This, influentially, was Trilling’s reading of the novel:

The subject of Little Dorrit is borne in upon us by the informing symbol, or emblem, of the book, which is the prison. The story opens in a prison in Marseilles. It goes on to the Marshalsea, which in effect it never leaves. The second of the two parts of the novel begins in what we are urged to think of as a sort of prison, the monastery of the Great St Bernard. The Circumlocution Office is the prison of the creative mind of England. Mr Merdle is shown habitually holding himself by the wrist, taking himself into custody, and in scores of ways the theme of incarceration is carried out, persons and classes being imprisoned by their notions of predestined fate or of religious duty, or by their occupations, their life-schemes, their ideas of themselves, their very habits of language.

Symbolic or emblematic devices are used by Dickens to one degree or another in several of the novels of his late period, but nowehere to such good effect as in Little Dorrit. The fog of Bleak House, the dustheap and the river of Our Mutual Friend are very striking, but they scarcely equal the force of the prison image which dominates Little Dorrit. This is because the prison is an actuality before it is ever a symbol; its connection with the will is real, it is the practical instrument for the negation of man’s will which the will of society has contrived.

Trilling later added a footnote: ‘Since writing this I have had to revise my idea of the actuality of the symbols of Our Mutual Friend. Professor Johnson’s biography of Dickens taught me much about the nature of dustheaps, including their monetary value, which was very large … I never quite believed that Dickens was telling the literal truth about this. From Professor Dodd’s The Age of Paradox I have learned to what an extent the Thames was visible the sewer of London, of how pressing was the problem of sewage in the city as Dickens knew it, of how present to the mind was the sensible and even the tangible evidence that the problem was not being solved. The moral disgust of the book is thus seen to be quite adequately comprehended by the symbols which are used to represent it.’  [AR]

Permalink Leave a Comment

Mayhew, Thursday 15th October

October 12, 2009 at 9:19 pm (Core Course)

Victorian London Core Course
Reading for Week 3 Class on Henry Mayhew

For this week’s class on Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, please read as much as possible of that text, but make sure you have read for class the following sections: the ‘Watercress Girl’ (p. 64 and following in the Penguin edition); ‘Statement of a Photographic Man’ (p. 335 and following in the Penguin edition); ‘The Doll’s-Eye maker’ (p. 344 and following in the Penguin edition). Please also read Edgar Allan Poe’s short story ‘The Man of the Crowd’ (available online), the opening of Bleak House, and the interview with ‘Charley’ in the ‘Bell Yard’ chapter of Bleak House. Two essays of interest are E.P. Thompson’s ‘The Political Education of Henry Mayhew’ Victorian Studies, September 1967, and Christopher Herbert’s ‘Rat Worship and Taboo in Mayhew’s London’, Representations 23 (Summer 1988). [SG]

Permalink Leave a Comment

Next page »