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Gospels and Grit

Gospels and Grit: Work and Labour in Carlyle, Conrad, and Orwell

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 290
  • Book Info
    Gospels and Grit
    Book Description:

    Work has had a problematic history in Western thought: disparaged as being contrary to contemplation, seen as a necessary burden, and invested with moral or even sacred value. In the Victorian era, a romantic-utilitarian dichotomy developed, and ideas of work were more radically divided than at any other time. On the one hand, the most popular mythologies propagated work as a value in itself - the 'Gospel of Work' - defining and building character and fostering well-being and a sense of fulfillment. On the other hand, with widespread industrialism, automation, and the division of labour, work was perceived as toil for extrinsic gain.

    Gospels and Gritexamines the literary representations of work and labour in the Victorian works of Thomas Carlyle and the twentieth-century writings of Joseph Conrad and George Orwell, exploring how the three systematically displaced the conflict between the Gospel of Work and a non-idealist, non-theoretical pragmatism. Rob Breton argues that these writers were unwilling or unable to provide a resolution to the conflicting discourses and locates fissures emerging out of the division between work and the economic. This is an important and well-written study that provides a new depth of insight into Victorian ideology and working-class culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7542-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-33)

    InDavid Copperfield(1849– 50) the fishy Uriah Heep attempts to defend his passive-aggressive villainy by explaining that he was taught ‘from nine o’clock to eleven, that labour was a curse; and from eleven o’clock to one, that it was a blessing and a cheerfulness, and a dignity, and I don’t know what all’ (829). The dichotomous and checkered history of European work generally begins with the ancient Greeks disparaging work, understanding it as a necessary evil, unfortunate for slaves and antithetical to contemplation. Later, medieval Christians followed them and the ancient Hebrews by continuing to see work as a...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Thomas Carlyle
    (pp. 34-93)

    One of the more curious conventions to take hold of the Victorian middle-class imagination involved a sort of mapping or social explorationism: touring or ‘going down’ among the lower classes and reporting back to the world above on the squalor and hardship faced in London’s East End or Manchester or any other ‘underworld’ in the UK. Henry Mayhew’s and Charles Booth’s voyages are perhaps the best known, but before Orwell did it almost fetishistically, everyone from the busybody philanthropists Charles Dickens derides to Bernard Shaw and Beatrice Webb did it, including Dickens; even Andrew Ure, the manufacturer, did it (though...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Joseph Conrad
    (pp. 94-149)

    In the last chapter I attempted to identify and contextualize an almost systemicandritualized practice of oscillating between a moral idea of work and economic convention: a practice reared primarily by Carlyle against the background of work rationalization and an insomniac economization. On the one hand, we saw a reaction against constricting man – yes, man – into the role of a maximizing agent,homo economicus, his working-class brother intohomo laborans, and public society into an organized, functionalized, yet unregulatedgesellschaftassociation by appealing to a Gospel of Work. The censure of over-extended formal rationalisms in general unites with the...

  7. CHAPTER THREE George Orwell
    (pp. 150-211)

    The difference between George Orwell’s withdrawal from and modernism’s aversion to society is not merely one of degree, but of kind. His reaction to the new technologies of human interaction revolves around an essentially Victorian, not a classical past. Whereas Orwell finds refuge from rationalism in Work and the folksy traditionalism of the ‘common man,’ modernist transcendence looks towards enforcing a revival of the spiritual/corporeal divide. I have argued that as Work – the most common point of departure from society for Carlyle and Conrad – is treated as if separate from its context and effects, a real submission and benefaction to...

  8. EPILOGUE Postindustrial and Postmodern Work
    (pp. 212-226)

    Despite derision from postmodernism on the one hand and the antiwork manifestoes of slackers on the other, the idea of Work continues to survive into the present day. And despite the rhetoric of postindustrial utopians and cyber-enthusiasts who downplay poverty and economic domination, issues surrounding labour continue to overwhelm us. If we are witnessing a substantial and widespread increase in the standard of living, and the ‘if’ is a big one, it still does not follow that the interests which our labour serves today have undergone any kind of substantial revision. And if we are witnessing the end of industry...

  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 227-238)
  10. Index
    (pp. 239-246)