I am looking for a book that depicts life as a factory worker in Industrial Revolution Britain?
May 22, 2009 5:02 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for a book recommendation that depicts life as a factory worker in Industrial Revolution Britain?

Can anybody recommend a book (factual narrative or fictional) that depicts life as a factory worker in Industrial Revolution Britain?
posted by jacobean to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Karl Marx, Capital.
Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844.
posted by Casuistry at 5:06 PM on May 22, 2009

Kind of -- North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell has great sympathy with factory workers, but center stage belongs to the factory owner and a pro-labor activist.
posted by Methylviolet at 5:14 PM on May 22, 2009

Yep, pretty-much what Casuistry said.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:20 PM on May 22, 2009

Hard Times
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:23 PM on May 22, 2009

Are you you looking for nineteenth-century accounts/novels? More recent work?

Classic Victorian fictional account (well, classic if you're a Victorianist): Frances Trollope's Michael Armstrong, The Factory Boy

Other social problem fiction involving factories: Charlotte Elizabeth (Tonna), The Wrongs of Women and Helen Fleetwood

Rather better-known novels involving industrial workers: Charles Dickens, Hard Times (see also the blacking factory episode in David Copperfield); Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton and North and South

Autobiographical accounts: see James R. Simmons, ed., Factory Lives
posted by thomas j wise at 5:27 PM on May 22, 2009

Another good one (good in the sense of useful; not awesome as sa novel) is Sybil by Disraeli. Published the same year as Engels (so late Industrial Revolution) it explicitly deals with the life of the working class and is famous for coining the phrase "Two Nations" that plays a big role in political conservative thought for the next 150 years.

Somewhat out of the timezone (turn of the 20th Century) is the fantastic The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists which, while it doesn't deal with factory workers, is all about being a late Victorian painter and decorator. And a tad more.

For a moden take on the industrial revolution novel, you could try Nice Works by David Lodge, which is both commentary and meta-commentary on those sorts of books (and is very funny in the proceeding)
posted by Hartster at 6:26 PM on May 22, 2009

thirding North and South, i got an audiocopy from librivox
posted by Neonshock at 1:12 AM on May 23, 2009

The bibliography in Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class has lots of contemporary sources, and of course Thompson's book itself is a classic account, particularly Part Two The Curse of Adam. Also good on artisan lives and the social shock of the introduction of family discipline in the weaving districts.
posted by Abiezer at 1:19 AM on May 23, 2009

That should have been "factory discipline." Paging Dr Freud to the green sub-site, etc.
posted by Abiezer at 1:20 AM on May 23, 2009

To clarify just a bit on what Casuistry said:

Capital is a very long book, most of it focused on a gradually unfolding discussion of the inner workings of capitalist production. However, it doesn't have to be as daunting as all that. There are basically two short books about the condition of the working class in Britain buried in the text: Chapter 10, "The Working-Day," and Chapter 15, "Machinery and Large-Scale Industry." They're kind of depressing, and he went out of his way not to duplicate effort too much with Engels's book, but you can get what you want out of Capital without reading the entire behemoth.
posted by graymouser at 3:49 AM on May 23, 2009

There's some good stuff on the Victorian Dictionary site. Look under Professions and Trades then Factory and Workshop Manufacture.

Also, Lucy, the Factory Girl; or, the Secrets of the Tontine Close, (1858-9), though I haven't read this and on skimming it doesn't look as if it has a huge amount of detail about factory life.

Factory lives: four nineteenth-century working-class autobiographies.

Extract here from Chapters in the Life of a Dundee Factory Boy (1850) (Word document).

Hidden Hands: Working-Class Women and Victorian Social-Problem Fiction has some good discussion and references to sources.

In modern fiction, there's Jill Paton Walsh's A Chance Child, though I can't remember whether the child in the book works in a factory or the mines.

You could also try searching on the VICTORIA list.

And if you live in an area with an industrial past, it's worth contacting local archives to see if anything's been published locally about the experiences of factory workers. I've found good stuff through local museums and archives, often based on oral histories or diaries that aren't known nationally.
posted by paduasoy at 4:35 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Trinity, by Leon Uris, has a theme about textile mills in Northern Ireland...from what I remember.
posted by sully75 at 6:27 AM on May 23, 2009

Seconding the suggestion to read the magnificent work of E. P. Thompson, both *The Making of the English Working Class,* and a less widely known book of essays called *Customs in Common,* which mostly deals with the everyday lives and community cultures of industrializing Britain. Tons of stuff in there about working conditions, schedules, etc.

Thompson's work radicalized me in profound ways. I can't praise it highly enough.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:20 AM on May 23, 2009

Seconding fourcheesemac. I enjoyed both of works by Thompson.

On the web, check out the Fordham Modern History Sourcebook. Here's the link to the section on social history and Victorian Britain.
posted by vincele at 1:45 AM on May 24, 2009

The National Archives UK is another resource to consider, with tutorials (geared towards students) about the Luddites, match girls and coal miners; there's also a timeline of key events. The BBC History website also provides a timeline and tutorials.
posted by woodway at 2:17 PM on May 24, 2009

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