Chapter 3: Industrial Bodies
The structural composition of the city can be seen as a consequence of industrial expansion in the nineteenth-century. The revolutionising of methods of production, the incentive to improve technologically and to increase commercial productivity, was at the heart of Victorian industry. The core of this industry can be located within the city itself; a veritable model of productivity where capitalism and consumerism act as the sustenance for the working populous, the lifeblood of the city mechanism. In 1848, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx collaborated on The Communist Manifesto, waxing lyrically on the virtues of communist social strategies by targeting the malignancy of exploitative industrial growth and capitalism. Composed in the same epoch as the literary texts studied in this investigation, there are intriguing parallels and conflictions between these historical political works and the novels of Dickens and Eliot, regarding their reasoning for the existence of cities as industrial and commercial centres, and the political agendas that arise as a consequence. For Marx and Engels, industrial growth gave way to the expansion of the city as a productive device:
It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.
(Marx, Engels, 1848, p.6)
Marx and Engels see the city as orchestrated by the wealthy middle classes, the bourgeoisie, where city expansion and growth is dictated solely by business profitability, not for the benefit of society as a whole. The Communist Manifesto imitates a dismissive tone of pastoral life, stating cities have ‘rescued’ a segment of society from mental imbecility and ‘idiocy’. Marx and Engels use this as a means of subverting bourgeoisie ideology, highlighting the effect of industry upon city inhabitants’ notions that the countryside is handicapped by comparison to the industrialised progress of the city. It is a similar ‘idiocy of rural life’ which is presented in Eliot’s Silas Marner, when Marner transports himself from the town of Lantern Yard to the village of Raveloe. Descending into a solitary rural life, Marner introduces a new technology from the city in the form of a loom, an large industrial tool implemented for mass production of cloth on a scale that Raveloe has never before witnessed:
The questionable sound of Silas's loom, so unlike the natural cheerful trotting of the winnowing-machine, or the simpler rhythm of the flail, had a half-fearful fascination for the Raveloe boys.
(Eliot, 1861, p.10)
The fascination exhibited by the Raveloe children is less the ‘idiocy’ that city dwellers may associate with country folk, but more an innocent naivety towards the necessity of technology and industry, which is imposed upon people of the city and casually accepted as the norm. For Marx and Engels, it is perhaps a sheltered naivety and freedom from the constraints and control of industry, which makes simplistic pastoral life infinitely superior to the economically driven city. Indeed, Eliot herself confesses that her idealised rural creation of Raveloe is, ‘aloof from the currents of industrial energy.’ (Eliot, 1861, p.31) Her characters are not swept up in the industrial drive of the Victorian cities, as rural life is more invested in the act of cultivation and farming, ‘to live in a rollicking fashion, and keep a jolly Christmas, Whitsun, and Eastertide’. (Eliot, 1861, p.12) It is Marner who provides a new weaving industry that is useful, modern and efficient to the country village of Raveloe. He has effectively brought the ‘energy’ of the industrial city to the hazy countryside. The simple life of working with the land and enjoying the country existence, however, only serves to contrast further with Marner’s foreign economic values of earning and storing his profits. Owing much to nineteenth-century stereotypes, Eliot’s rural characters are primarily concerned with cattle, horses and meat carcasses, while city man Marner is far more engrossed in the capital he is steadily accumulating:
He spread them out in heaps and bathed his hands in them; then he counted them and set them up in regular piles, and felt their rounded outline between his thumb and fingers, and thought fondly of the guineas that were only half-earned by the work in his loom, as if they had been unborn children.
(Eliot, 1861, p.30)
The private affair of collating and counting his money in the private space is a particularly emotive event for Marner, effectively a fatherly moment with his own ‘children’, cultivated from his weaving trade. It is clearly a relationship, as he ‘loves’ the coins, treats them ‘fondly’ as they are effectively born of his industrial partner, ‘his loom’. Like Dickens’ Scrooge, who festers away inside the counting house with his money, Marner too is engaged only in commerce and capital. The affect of city life, the need to trade and earn and build a private empire, somehow diminishes him as a human being as both have become industrial machines to accumulate revenue. Although he has escaped from the city, discourses of the city still prevail in Marner’s private priorities. His main concern is of ‘keeping himself strong enough to work sixteen hours a day on as mall an outlay as possible.’ (Eliot, 1861, p.27) Here Marner is both the employer and employee, driving himself to produce as many goods as he can in the shortest period, but more importantly, to extend his working day to the limit of his capabilities. In order to redeem Marner and Scrooge from their moral maladies, Eliot and Dickens are forced to eject their characters from their private accounting spheres into the public space, the communities, to experience life and society as the true currency of life. For Marner is it the country which heals him and for Scrooge it is the social union at Christmas; effectively subordinating capital to a marginal position as a new social commerce becomes the foremost passion. To overcome the mechanical, industrious mindset is effectively to be released from the structure of the city to embrace society. Suzanne Graver’s study in social theory relates that Eliot’s intention was to set ‘in a strong light the remedial influences of pure, natural human relations.’ (Graver, 1984, p.101) It is these very ‘human relations’ that become dispersed and diluted with the growth of the industrial city.
One of the major industrial advancements of the nineteenth-century was the escalation of transport via rail. Cities that were once circumfused by the country, like individual industrial islands, soon became interlinked by rail tracks that bisected the broad countryside. Dickens’ Dombey and Son pays particular attention to the expansion of railway transportation and its influence upon Victorian culture as a powerful force:
The yet unfinished and unopened Railroad was in progress; and, from the very core of all this dire disorder, trailed smoothly away, upon its mighty course of civilisation and improvement.
(Dickens, 1844, p121)
The railroad is seen as an active force for good, a ‘mighty’ act of ‘improvement’ upon the decadence and degeneracy of society in the period. Dickens sees the construction of a rail system, the interconnection of a web that links separate cities and industries, as a formidable progress for society. The ‘dire disorder’ of cities, he believes, will somehow be miraculously restructured by the introduction of a new transport industry. The train itself, perhaps, may be used as a force for control, a symbol of power, of Empire and of a pure mechanics which is untainted by its surroundings as it simply slices through its locations like an armoured battalion. Williams describes this optimism as a ‘pride of power’ (Williams, 1973, p.163) which is evoked through the new inventions of the Industrial Revolution. Like Dickens, Williams pinpoints the railroad as a device to change society, a power that unrelentingly overrides ‘all other human habits and purposes’. (Williams, 1973, p.163) Throughout Dombey and Son, Dickens presents the train as a lethal creature, a foreboding device which somehow moderates society’s behaviour:
Away, with a shriek, and a roar, and a rattle, from the town, burrowing among the dwellings of men and making the streets hum, flashing out into the meadows for a moment, mining in through the damp earth, booming on in darkness and heavy air…
(Dickens, 1844, p.354)
The initiation of the train is an extended metaphor for the progress of industry; an unrelenting and accelerating driving force which, like the city, is born of man yet is a force invariably larger and more powerful than the human form. It is a monster which casually moves between man’s ‘dwellings’, a subterraneous creature which can ‘shriek’ and ‘roar’, which borrows and mines under the streets, a device which encompasses and wraps around cities, interconnecting them as one large powerhouse of industrial activity. For Dickens, the train alone symbolises industry, a large projectile which is fired out of the city to penetrate throughout the country. It is an unstoppable force which he presumably supports, for he doesn’t attempt to prevent nor condemn it in his writing. Dickens’ optimistic tone is evoked from a period of great change in ‘social and economic forces’ (Williams, 1973, p.163), where the train transcends social ideologies of space and gender. The once contested terrain of the city for middle-class women is now an open ground for shopping and commerce thanks to ‘new public services and transportation that facilitated the movement of respectable women across urban spaces.’ (Walkowitz, 1992, p.46) Once forbidden or dangerous places were suddenly readily accessible and as such the city had become a ripened fruit ready for the picking by the middle-classes, the dominant social elite.
It is the exploitation of industry, the dominance of the middle-class through new technologies of production throughout the city, which Marx and Engels strongly contest in The Communist Manifesto. The power that the new industries, the new machines, bring to the middle-class could easily be employed as an oppressive tool on the working-class. They argue that the ‘unceasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious.’ (Marx, Engels, 1845, p.12) As such, the proletariat are in danger of becoming part of this industrialised machinery, functioning as a tiny cog within a large machine, stripped of character and bleached of identity. Through urban industrialism, inhabitants of the city became assimilated into the industrial system and objectified, not subject to it. Engels states this admirably in The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844:
Population becomes centralised just as capital does; and, very naturally, since the human being, the worker, is regarded in manufacture simply as a piece of capital for the use of which the manufacturer pays interest under the name of wages.
(Engels, 1845, p.107)
The working class simply becomes, in business terms, a variable asset, an easily recycled tool of minute value. It is befitting for a city to often be regarded as the capital, as a city is a veritable hub of liquidity and expendable workforces. As Engels states, the worker becomes ‘a piece of capital’ which is invested in the industrial cycle of production. The reduction of the proletariat into automations is presented in the clerical offices of Dombey:
Mr. Carker in his own office was the first step; Mr. Morfin, in his own office, was the second. Each of these gentlemen occupied a little chamber like a bath-room, opening from the passage outside Mr. Dombey’s door.
(Dickens, 1848, p.238)
The management of the counting house aligns the workforce into a hierarchical pyramid with Dombey at the top, and Morfin at the bottom. The ‘little chamber’ of each worker is an encapsulation of their own place and position within the company as well as in society; they occupy a space which is equal to that of their social stature. Dickens even goes to pains to name Dombey as ‘the Sultan’ (Dickens, 1848, p.238) of employment in the scale in the offices. It is the Sultan who owns his workers, he pays for them, they are his commodities, each stored neatly in their own quarters. It is analogous to an organised battery farm of workers, and the dimensionally intrinsic construction of the city is essential to demarcate their working positions. The walled space of the rooms, like a prison cell, is a permanent reminder that Dombey owns his workforce for the duration of their working hours. It is very similar to a honeycomb of individual worker bees in a large hive; outside the honeycomb on the outer edges resides Perch the messenger, ‘whose place was on a little bracket, like a timepiece.’ (Dickens, 1848, p.237) Even the messenger boy is a small item in Dombey’s possession, placed in the correct place, ready for utilisation when required. As his name suggested, Perch is quite literally a trained animal perched on the bracket, awaiting employment by his peers. Marx and Engels suggest it is this very act that literally dehumanises the city worker into an operative drone:
The work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him.
(Marx, Engels, 1845, p.10)
Marx and Engels argue that the confinement to a specific role and position within an industry is an act of closure and repression of an employee’s true talents. One would assume that by being part of the city structure, housed in the urban spaces of the city, that the proletarian would already exist as ‘an appendage’ of the city mechanism, part of the larger crowd. To become part of the machine in the industrial realm is, by conjecture, simply an extension from the position that the workman already has in the city as a denizen. Dombey is arguably as much an ‘appendage’ to his business as Marner is to his loom or Scrooge is to his counting house. Although the measure of class is variable in each instance, it would seem that every workman is somehow attached to his or her industry and as such is enveloped by it. In the industrial city, the only way a human can become separate from his industry is to vacate the city structure and not become assimilated in employment at all.
Fundamentally, the city can be envisioned as a large, complex industrial mechanism. Like the workhouses, mills and factories which are sustained by the working class proletarians, the city itself is sustained by the businesses and industries which internally power it. The city body is dimensionally intrinsic; it is composed of large architectural structures that accommodate factories, which in turn house the industrial machines which are operated by the proletarian workforce. It is an organised system of capitalist industrialism that traps, trains and enslaves the populous to drive the industrial mechanisms which essentially binds the city together as a powerhouse of productivity. The drive for productivity, wealth and prosperity within the industrialised city has undoubtedly had a massive influence in the way cities are engineered, and indeed on the literary texts which have been born from the period. Eliot, through her affinity with the country chooses to ‘locate value in a rural past’ (Graver, 1984, p.19) while, conversely, Dickens envisions industry as the prevailing factor in the growth and refining of mankind. Indeed, despite what each author extols the virtues of, their own novels are individual products of a thriving publishing industry, which prevailed in cities of the period and still fructify today as modern industries.
There's no black and no white...
Writer, Content Executive, Communications Officer, Public Relations, Theatre Reviewer, Reader.