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Thread: Did Gaskell and Engels know each other?

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Did Gaskell and Engels know each other?

    I started reading The Condition of the Working Class in England by Friedrich Engels, which was based on his observations in Manchester during the 1840s. Friedrich Engels was the son of a wealthy, German industrialist, who also had business assets in England. Engels wanted to study the working class in Britain because at the time it was the most industrialized country in the world. His introduction reminded me of history lessons from school. It always seemed to be either the Industrial Revolution or the Tudors when I was at school. Anyway, the rate at which industry grew during those years was astounding, the way Engels reported them. I was reminded just how many textiles we made back then. Friedrich Engels wrote that he spent his time in Manchester talking to factory workers rather than hob-nobbing with the quality.

    Since Manchester was Elizabeth Gaskell's city, and that they both sympathized and wrote about working class people, I wondered whether they ever met or read each others books. Gaskell may not have read Engels' book since it was published in Germany and was not translated into English until decades later.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Sweden is a major steel exporter and its early reliance on British technology (notably the Bessemer Process) was massive. This is how it was in the 1800s.

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    Registered User prendrelemick's Avatar
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    Gaskell was fluent in German and was said to be greatly influenced by German Literature, so I wouldn't be surprised if she had read his Manchester book. But I doubt they met - simply because of the social restrictions of the time, she being married to a minister in Knutsford while he was living out of wedlock with a "common" woman in Manchester.
    Last edited by prendrelemick; 06-15-2015 at 11:04 AM.
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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by prendrelemick View Post
    she being married to a minister in Knutsford.

    William Gaskell was Minister of Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in central Manchester,not Knutsford. I still can't imagine Engels and Elizabeth Gaskell meeting.

    Did Engels read Mary Barton? The final reconciliation between workers and bosses, despite the murder, strikes me as unconvincing, I'm sorry to say. I can't imagine Engels' chum Karl Marx would have had much time for it.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonathanB View Post
    William Gaskell was Minister of Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in central Manchester,not Knutsford. I still can't imagine Engels and Elizabeth Gaskell meeting.

    Did Engels read Mary Barton? The final reconciliation between workers and bosses, despite the murder, strikes me as unconvincing, I'm sorry to say. I can't imagine Engels' chum Karl Marx would have had much time for it.
    I don't suppose they met. I just wonder whether they were aware of each others existence at the time when they were both active in Manchester. I don't suppose Marx would have time for either Gaskell or Dickens. Both sympathized with the poor but neither supported radical solutions. Dickens disapproved of trade unionism. Often in his books, problems of poverty are solved by the generosity of rich men. Gaskell sympathized with men and masters. Her solution was both sides should just try and be reasonable and get along.

    I have been reading Engels' descriptions of housing in the great towns. They seem somewhat worse than Gaskell's. Gaskell's characters are poor and often go hungry, but don't live in quite such squalor. They have few clothes, little furniture and little crockery, but they are still ordinary decent people. They can read and write. The over-crowding is not bad as Engels depicts. Perhaps Engels was reporting on the worst. His reports do remind me of Jack London's observations of London sixty years later.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Interestingly, Engels refers to a Gaskell, but it is a P. Gaskell. P. Gaskell wrote a report titled, The Manufacturing Population of England: Its Moral, Social and Physical Condition, and the Changes which have arisen from the Use of Steam Machinery, with an Examination of Infant Labour. Engels seems to rate this work.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I have been reading Engels' chapter on competition. It agrees pretty much with what one of the characters says in Mary Barton. If Gaskell and Engels did not read each other, they must have read the same sources.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    I think it's fair to say they shared a concern for the working conditions of the poor. However, they are coming from very different positions. Engels from the historical/economic school that will become Marxism, and Gaskell from the social gospel movement that would go on to produce organizations like the Salvation Army.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
    - Margaret Atwood

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Engels quotes an interesting factoid:

    The Ministry, in its whole enormous budget of 55,000,000, has only a single trifling item of 40,000 for public education...

    I wonder what he meant by Ministry. Did he mean the Department for Education or its predecessor, or did he mean the whole of government expenditure.

    According to the introduction, Engels researched and wrote the book from 1842 to 1844, which was just before the Irish Potato Famine started. I read a book about the famine last year. One of the politicians, Palmerstone I think, complained that tens of millions of pounds had been spent on famine relief. I was not sure what to make of that figure. I tend to multiply Victorian money figures by a hundred to get an idea of an equivalent value in today's money. Two or three billion pounds is a lot of money, but not enough given the scale of the crisis.

    One other thing Engels and Mrs Gaskell agree upon is their low opinion of the Irish. Engels says they are dirtier, more ragged, and more improvident. They burn any wood they can find in the houses that they rent. They blow their wages on drink. They undercut English workers by working for less.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    It looks like the entire British government expenditure was 55M when Engels was writing. Look at this amazing link.

    Of the 55M, 14.6M was spent on defence and 29.6M on interest, which I suppose was paying off the national debt incurred by the Napoleonic wars decades earlier. 300,000 was spent on education, nothing on pensions, healthcare or welfare. In those days there was some welfare, but I believe it was mostly paid for in parish rates. In Emma, which I read recently, administrating poor relief from parish rates appeared to one of Mr Elton's duties, who was the local clergyman.

    Compare the British government's 1843 expenditure with that of 2014.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Interestingly, the murder plot in Mary Barton was not that far-fetched. There was a case where a manufacturer was murdered with a pistol. There were conspiracies between union activists to do some desperate stuff. I remember industrial relations in this country being pretty bad in the 1970's and 80's, but it was nothing compared to this.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    I think it's fair to say they shared a concern for the working conditions of the poor. However, they are coming from very different positions. Engels from the historical/economic school that will become Marxism, and Gaskell from the social gospel movement that would go on to produce organizations like the Salvation Army.
    Socialism and Christianity are far from incompatible. The Labour Party had strong links with English nonconformity (eg the Tolpuddle Martyrs were Methodists). R H Tawney was a certainly a Christian and a socialist - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._H._Tawney. William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, was a major influence in the foundation of the welfare state (remember that?)
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dreamwoven View Post
    The Quakers are my favourite nonconformist church. They set up soup kitchens in Ireland during the potato famine and saved many lives. They also set up quite a few factories and have a reputation for being good employers. I am not sure what guys like Marx and Engels thought of them. I am quite interested in what their standard of living was compared to an average factory owner's. Much of the bitterness felt by the workers was due to them seeing how much money the owners had compared to them.

    It has closed down now, but the biggest employer in my home town used to be Huntley and Palmer who made biscuits. Huntley and Palmer were Quakers. Huntley and Palmers were a paternalistic company although workers complained they did not pay particularly well.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User prendrelemick's Avatar
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    One of the better known Quaker mill owners was Titus Salt, who built the town of Saltaire near Bradford for his workers. They had decent housing, way above the norm, together with strict rules about their conduct. He was reputed to to be well thought of by his employees.
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