The Nineteenth Century
Industrialisation heralded significant developments in working-class writing. A new militancy developed among the working class, resulting increased political tracts and essays. And for the first time, there was a mass readership of the radical press. At the same time, middle-class writers showed an awareness of working-class conditions, and the 1840s saw the advent of the English industrial novel. However, these were written by sympathetic middle-class observers and not by working-class members. Authors such as Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell were popular. However, middle-class writers, lacking experience or knowledge, were typically unable to describe the reality of working-class life, so the majority were often romanticised and stereotypical portrayals of working-class people.
However, two notable working-class writers of novels did emerge at the turn of the century - Robert Tressell and D.H. Lawrence, although their styles differed considerably. In many respects, Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (1914) connects with the older model of aA sympathetic observer, but a participating and exposed observer whose narrative and commentary on the ills of capitalism can be read as an instruction manual of socialism. Whereas Lawrence writes about characters immersed in the actual experience of working-class life and its immediacies of family, friends, and places. Consequently, what emerges in his novels is not simply a reductive depiction of class but a collage of working-class existence.