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  1. One of the major challenges faced by writers seeking to portray the sufferings of the working classes was how to give them voice.
    1. How concerned are the various writers in this topic with this challenge? How do they attempt to meet it, and how successful are they?
    2. Compare the literary portrayal in the selections from Barrett Browning and Gaskell to the worker's testimony in parliamentary hearings. Does the testimony encourage you to read these authors differently, and, if so, how? Does the testimony itself represent the direct speech of the working poor, or do you see reason to doubt this?
  2. In a number of the Victorian prose selections in NAEL, writers address what they see as the social problems created by industrial labor. Read closely the selections from Carlyle's Captains of Industry (NAEL 8, 2.1029–33), Ruskin's Stones of Venice (NAEL 8, 2.1324–34), and Arnold's Doing as One Likes (NAEL 8, 2.1399–1402). How do their analyses of industrial labor compare to the portrayals of laboring life in this topic?
  3. Humanitarian feeling was not the only factor which motivated writers to acknowledge the suffering of the working classes. Many writers feared that if the workers' complaints were not heard within the terms of civilized discourse, they would be felt through rioting and revolution.
    1. Consider the images of necessary retribution in Carlyle's Democracy (NAEL 8, 2.1024–29) and Captains of Industry (NAEL 8, 2.1029–33). How do religion, history, and "nature" together underwrite his claims that "the Toiling Millions of Mankind . . . shall cast away False-Guidance" and that "Democracy . . . shall go its full course" (NAEL 8, 2.1029)?
    2. In contrast to Carlyle's hyperbolic rhetoric, both Gaskell and Barrett Browning seem subtle in their references to tears being transformed into curses. How do their visions differ from Carlyle's and from each other? Which is the most persuasive?
  4. In the late nineteenth century, a group of journalists and reformers who termed themselves "social explorers" compared Britain's working-class poor to non-European "savages," and described their journeys into the dark and near-impenetrable urban slums as journeys into the unexplored jungles and deserts of the colonies.
    1. Examine the different steps by which William Booth establishes his analogy between "darkest England" and "darkest Africa." How useful is the analogy, and in what ways might the analogy serve to distract readers from the specific problems of the Victorian working classes? Can Booth's rhetoric be considered as hyperbolic as Carlyle's?
    2. Compare Booth's descriptions of darkest England to Engels's explanation of how Manchester's slum districts are concealed from the middle classes. Is it useful to think of Engels as an early "social explorer"?
  5. Compare Barrett Browning's The Cry of the Children to two earlier poems also concerned with the suffering of laboring children: The Chimney Sweeper from Blake's Songs of Innocence (NAEL 8, 2.81–87) and Songs of Experience (NAEL 8, 2.87–97).
    1. Are Blake's intentions in these poems as clear as Barrett Browning's? How successful in each of these poems is the use of the child's voice?
    2. How do the two poets use theological themes to deepen, counterbalance, or complicate their depiction of physical suffering?
  6. Concern with industrial processes and progress was not confined to the texts gathered together in this topic and in the "Industrialism: Progress or Decline?" section of NAEL 8 (2.1556–79). How does the reading of these texts change your understanding of more traditionally canonical works such as Arnold's The Scholar Gypsy (NAEL 8, 2.1361) or Tennyson's Locksley Hall (NAEL 8, 2.1129)?
  7. Henry Mayhew's Vagrant, Trouser Maker, and Coster Girl and The Poor Cotton Weaver represent the speech (and song) of the working classes themselves.
    1. How does working life as described in the workers' own words differ from that life as it is presented by writers of the middle and upper classes? Do these differences make the workers themselves more effective or less effective advocates of their cause?
    2. Gaskell had explicitly based her presentation of the working classes in Mary Barton on what she had learned from "one or two of the more thoughtful among them." Would Gaskell characterize Mayhew's interviewees and the singers of The Poor Cotton Weaver as thoughtful or thoughtless? What is to be gained from listening to the less thoughtful?
  8. Amidst the increasing mechanization of labor (and, for Ruskin and Arnold, of the laborer's body and mind), the organic reality of the workers' bodies received a new emphasis. The spectacle of industrialization forced writers to acknowledge the workers' physicality: as laboring, as suffering, as producing filth and waste.
    1. Consider the disagreement early in the century between Macauley and Southey (NAEL 8, 2.1557–62) and that late in the century between Lucas and Besant, both of which focus on the effects of industrial labor on the physical health of the workers. What differences in tone, methods of argument, and use of evidence do you find between the earlier and later writers? What developments in the intervening years might account for these differences?
    2. Engels's description of the poverty and squalor of Manchester invites the reader to verify the claims made and provides specific instructions about how to do so: "Anyone who wishes to confirm this description should go to the first court on the bank of the Irk above Ducie Bridge" (NAEL 8, 2.1569). Likewise, Lucas's Scenes from Factory London purports to guide the reader through an actual scene, and Booth offers to help readers penetrate an uncharted wilderness of "vice and poverty and crime." What assumptions do these three very different authors share? What in the conventions of the tour guide makes it an effective way of criticizing or of celebrating the realities of industrial life?
  9. Explicitly or implicitly, a number of writers, including Barrett Browning, Besant, Booth, and Ruskin (NAEL 8, 2.1328), use slavery as a metaphor for the industrial worker's condition.
    1. How do these authors establish this metaphorical equation? What is gained by treating industrial labor in philosophical terms as a denial of liberty rather than simply as a cause of suffering? What is lost?
    2. Compare the metaphor of industrial labor as slavery with the abolitionist poetry of the eighteenth century, and the descriptions of laboring life with descriptions of the treatment of slaves aboard ship. To what extent does the metaphorical equation strike you as valid and as appropriate?
  10. Industrialism's critics saw it as the destroyer of natural human sympathies. They blamed the upper and middle classes for their failure to acknowledge their responsibility for and relation to the working classes and also blamed industrialism for destroying workers' (especially female workers') relations to their own families.
    1. Compare early Victorian denunciations of this phenomenon, such as those by Carlyle (NAEL 8, 2.1024–33) and Engels (NAEL 8, 2.1565–72), with a late Victorian attack, such as that of Besant. How, if at all, has the situation changed?
    2. Infanticide by working-class women represented for the Victorians the ultimate perversion of family life. How does the selection from Charles Dickens's The Chimes (1844) construct the mother not as villain but as victim and even heroine? What other examples of this recalibration of morality can be found in the materials on industrialism?
  11. The controversy over industrialism threw into question not only the economic justice of the means of material production but also the value of various cultural productions.
    1. What critique of what is commonly considered art emerges from writers like Carlyle, Ruskin, and Arnold? What new virtues is art called upon to uphold?
    2. How do you see the faults attacked by Carlyle, Ruskin, and Arnold, or the virtues they uphold, operating in literary works which appear far removed from the problems of industrialism? See for instance the poems of Tennyson (NAEL 8, 2.1109–1212) and Robert Browning (NAEL 8, 2.1248–1310) and the aesthetic theory of Pater (NAEL 8, 2.1507–13) and of Wilde in The Critic as Artist (NAEL 8, 2.1689–97) and The Preface to "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (NAEL 8, 2.1797–98).
  12. In his review of Southey's Colloquies (NAEL 8, 2.1557–62), Thomas Macauley mocks Southey's aesthetic preoccupations and suggests that "the pleasures of taste and imagination" (NAEL 8, 2.1560) should be proscribed from discussions of economic progress.
    1. Consider how this imperative toward realism is both acknowledged and resisted by writers like Gaskell and Dickens in Hard Times (NAEL 8, 2.1573–74). What purpose is served by allowing room for what Gaskell calls "romance"?
    2. In the preface to A Voice from the Factories, an earlier poem (1836) on the same subject as The Cry of the Children, Caroline Norton admits that "some apology is perhaps necessary" for applying poetry to the problems of daily life. How does Norton proceed to justify her choice of medium, and how is her theory reflected in the poem itself? How does Barrett Browning's poem reflect or differ from Norton's theory and practice?

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