Stacy Morgan

Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

George McCelvey, Jim Heldman, Joe Glaser


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Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


With the development of industry and the prevalence of machinery, the world of nature was violated in the eyes of many Victorian writers. Nature and industry, each pitted against the other, competed for priority in man's daily life as well as in man's ideals. In her novels Mary Barton and North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell squarely faced the breakdown of a simple agrarian society into industrial complexity. Like many others, she recognized the demise of an agricultural, nature-centered world; she went one step further, however, to write not only of her growing respect for the knowledge derived from that change but also of her genuine desire to see the two worlds of nature and industry reconciled in the minds of her readers.

According to their own frames of reference, her literary contemporaries Dickens and Disraeli made similar efforts, though choosing different means, to reconcile the opposition between nature and industry. The basic problem, however, was agreed upon by all--it was the conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

By first broadening the notion of the conflict between social classes in England to the more general consideration of a conflict between nature and industry, this study follows the imaginations of the labor novelists and the characters of the novels themselves toward a fundamental confrontation of forces in the Industrial Revolution. In addition, this work considers the natural world and the industrial world to be separated not only by class but also by sharply contrasting environments and clashing ideas. The innocence and simplicity of nature are contrasted with the knowledge, progress, and wealth of the industrial giants. In their creative effort to present the conflict between the classes, the labor novelists chose to make nature and industry bigger than life, thus allowing the conflict to involve mcre than just man against man. The land, therefore, is personified as if it faces the same challenge as the men and women who live on it. Similarly, the philosophies within the working class are challenged by the changes that occur during the Industrial Revolution.

Once the confrontation between nature and industry becomes intense, the destruction of nature is inevitable. Again, the labor novel addresses this destruction not only in terms of the people but also in light of the land and the ideas of the people. Lastly, and most importantly, the novels suggest a reconciliation of some sort within the three areas already mentioned: the people, the land, and the ideas. It is with the understanding that the labor novel was a vehicle for change that the labor novelists of the Industrial Revolution treated the theme of the reconciliation of nature and industry.


Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, British Isles