The nineteenth century was one of industrialisation, revolution and social reform. The British empire boasted approximately 25% of the worlds population (Alcock, 2013). The industrial revolution had allowed Britain to create a large naval fleet, a strong export trade, and a new urban society. But with this political boom, discontent arose amongst the indigenous citizens of Britain. An urban workforce began toiling under strain creating a notable class conflict. Numerous social reforms were made, chartism and suffragism arose during this century, and the British government were consistently more paranoid as middle class revolutions broke out all over Europe. Observations by people such as Engels and Carlyle were published about the conditions of the working class in Britain. Fiction reflected a negative view of the industrial revolution too. Charles Dickens had personal experience of the proletariat, and Elizabeth Gaskell wrote Mary Barton to represent those she observed “In the busy streets of the town” (Greenblatt, 1222). How did Dickens and Gaskell nurture a paternal sense of responsibility within the literate middle class of their era?
Representing the conditions the working class endured was imperative. Dickens tells us so in Hard Times. He states: “Let us strike the key-note, Coketown, before pursuing our tune” (Dickens, 27) In literary terms a keynote is the central idea in a literary work, as well as the root note that a piece of music is based upon (Collins, 561). Dickens tells us directly that Coketown is the pivotal idea in the novel. It is evident by the dialect used in Blackpool’s dialogue that Dickens represented a Mancunian district (Vasquez, 215). Dickens describes “A town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it.” (Dickens, 27) Emphasising the breathlessness, and claustrophobia, of Coketown, Dickens utilises long sentences when describing it, the paragraphs of ‘Key-note’ and the chapter ‘Stephen Blackpool’ both use extensive punctuation, keeping the descriptions long enough for the reader to run out of breath. Amid these long sentences, a strong scathing negativity toward the town is apparent, it is an “Ugly citadel”, (Dickens, 65) “Red and black like the painted face of a savage” with a “River that ran purple with ill smelling dye.” (Dickens, 27) These images reflect Engels’ descriptions of Manchester in The Conditions of the Working Class in England describing “A dark-coloured body of water, which leaves the beholder in doubt whether it is a brook or a long string of stagnant puddles” flowing through Manchester contributing “Its share to the total pollution of the air, by no means pure without it.” (Engels, 55) Toxic air is a common theme; in Mary Barton, the city is alluded to by a cloud that is “Blacker and more threatening.” (Gaskell, 6) The authors both make sure the reader know that their towns are separate from nature. Dickens reports “Nature was as strongly bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in,” (Dickens, 65) Gaskell begins Mary Barton in a pastoral setting where “The artisan, deafened with noise of tongues and engine, may come to listen awhile to the delicious sounds of rural life,” (Gaskell, 5) and both authors place particular importance on nature by making it a proper noun. This personification in Hard Times, alienates nature as it is almost forbidden, from the town, and in Mary Barton, nature as a character is declared as the owner of “Her beautiful springtime” (Gaskell, 6) and therefore the provider of this “Wild luxuriance.” (Gaskell, 6) The rural