The Industrial Revolution
A Definition: The Industrial Revolution is the relatively rapid shift from a primarily agricultural economy to a primarily manufacturing economy in which technological change and economic growth becomes the norm.
The Industrial Revolution impacted many levels of British society. The impact could be seen in the economic, political and social arenas. The Industrial Revolution began in Britain somewhere between 1760 and 1785. This massive transforming-process began in the years surrounding Jane Austen’s birth.
As a result of the Industrial Revolution, there is a large growth of population with a mass movement from the southern region of England to the northern industrialized cities and towns. The North of England housed the factories and manufacturing plants. In some ways, the Industrial Revolution created a new life and a new society for all classes of people. For most working class families, living standards increased.
The new advances and new ideas of the Industrial Revolution also brought a great deal of opposition. Luddism was a protest movement begun in 1811 and lasted until 1817. The followers of Luddism attacked property, mostly factories and machines. For these citizens and many others, the Industrial Revolution was seen as a threat to traditional life.
With the Industrial Revolution came social legislation detailing working conditions. In 1802, The Health and Morals of Apprentices Act was established. This Act applied to cotton mills. Under this Act, workers were permitted a certain amount of clothing and instruction or education. Children were no longer allowed to work nights and were limited to a twelve-hour day.
A Few General Facts:
Cotton cloth was the leading industry during this period.
During the Industrial Revolution, both the British foreign and domestic markets grow.
Emphasis on technological innovation.
Great agricultural improvements.
During Jane Austen’s lifetime, changes resulting from the Industrial Revolution would have begun to appear gradually.
Most information was obtained from notes taken in Dr. Marjorie Wheeler-Barclay’s History 206 class. Information on the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act of 1802 was taken from British Historical Facts: 1760-1830 by Chris Cook and John Stevenson.
Women During the Time Period
One of the most important women writers was Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797). With her sisters and others, Wollstoncraft established a girl’ school in London. Her first book was Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1786). Wollstonecraft’s most famous work was A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792. In this, Wollstoncraft presents the misfortunes of women. She lived in France from 1793-94. She fell in love with a man named Gilbert Imlay and had a child. After her breakup with an Imlay and an attempted suicide, she began a relationship with William Godwin. On August 30, she gave birth to Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Shelley) and died ten days later.
Another woman writer of this time period was Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849). She was known for her children’s stories and educational works. She published her first novel Castle Rackrent in 1800. This work came to be considered the first Anglo-Irish novel. There is evidence of realism in her works. Most of her novels were as either Irish or English society novels. Her novel Belinda, published in 1801, probably had an influence on Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility.
Sarah Siddons (1755-1831) is considered one of the greatest actors in the history of English Theater. She performed in tragedies and serious dramas. Although acting was considered dishonorable for women, she kept away criticism because she raised five children and appeared very devoted to them. Between 1782-1802, Siddons played 70 different roles. She is most famous for her portrayal of Lady Macbeth.
Lady Emma Hamilton (1765-1815) began as a singer and actress in London. Her professional name was Emma Hart. She married her uncle, Sir William Hamilton, in 1791. He was thirty years older than she was. She had a passionate romance with Lord Horatio Nelson, an English admiral. Hamilton gave birth to a daughter in 1801, presumably the child of Nelson. Sir William Hamilton died in 1804 and Nelson died in 1806. Emma Hamilton went into a state of depression. She began drinking and ended up imprisoned for debt. She died in France in 1815.
Information on Mary Wollstonecraft came from volume two of The Norton Anthology of English Literature.
Other information was obtained from the Encyclopedia of Romanticism: Culture in Britain, 1780s-1830s which was edited by Laura Dabundo.
Burroughs, Catherine. “Siddons, Sarah”. Encyclopedia of Romanticism: Culture in Britain, 1780s-1830s. Ed. Laura Dabundo. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1992. 531-533.
Cook, Chris, and John Stevenson. British Historical Facts: 1760-1830. London: The Macmillan Press LTD, 1980.
Kerley, Gary. “Hamilton, Lady Emma”. Encyclopedia of Romanticism: Culture in Britain, 1780s-1830s. Ed. Laura Dabundo. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1992. 246.
Kirkpatrick, Katherine. “Edgeworth, Maria”. Encyclopedia of Romanticism: Culture in Britain, 1780s-1830s. Ed. Laura Dabundo. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1992. 172-175.
“Mary Wollstonecraft.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. 7th ed. 2 vols. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2000. 163-166.
Poplawski, Paul. A Jane Austen Encyclopedia. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998.
Wheeler-Barclay, Marjorie. “The Industrial Revolution I”. Smith Building, Lynchburg. 25 Jan. 2002.
Wheeler-Barclay, Marjorie. “The Industrial Revolution II”. Smith Building, Lynchburg. 28 Jan. 2002.