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Harriet Martineau and industrial strife: from theory into fiction into melodrama

Vint, John (2007) Harriet Martineau and industrial strife: from theory into fiction into melodrama. Working Paper. Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

The question of the impact of the development of machinery on the economy and in particular on the relationship between capital and labour was a major issue in England in the first half of the nineteenth century. The introduction of machinery raised profound questions for politicians and political economists, and provoked strong reactions by workers from as early as the 1790s and this was particularly prevalent in the 1820s and 1830s as the use of machinery spread. Harriet Martineau was perhaps the most successful popularizer of Classical political economy. Writing in the late 1820s and early 1830s she outsold Dickens for a while. In her work she concerned herself with the question of machinery and in particular the hostility to it by workers. This is apparent in the early work ‘The Rioters’ written in 1827, and in the tales 'The Hill and the Valley' and ‘The Manchester Strike’ from her Illustrations of Political Economy 1832-4. In 1834 two plays were put on in London, not only influenced by these two tales but also by another from the Illustrations, ‘Life in the Wild’. This paper examines Martineau’s contributions to the debate concerning machinery and looks at the theoretical underpinnings, the natures and implications of her fictional accounts and how these in turn influenced the two London dramas.

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