An increasingly commercial society, 1700–50
in Literature and class
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Chapter Five begins with an analysis of Daniel Defoe’s A Tour Through The Whole Island of Great Britain and Moll Flanders. While Defoe’s geographical survey sees a united England and Scotland working together to increase the prosperity of its inhabitants, the novel explores the nature of class divisions. In Samuel Richardson’s Pamela the union of the aspirational, virtuous Pamela and the rakish upper-class Mr. B functions to revivify what might otherwise be a moribund social order. For labouring class poets such as Stephen Duck, whose example inspired the subsequent popularity of such writers, life was undeniably complicated, often hard. Duck’s rapid rise left him with anxieties and a sense of deracination that was exploited by his detractors. Mary Collier, who responded to Duck’s criticism of female indolence, explored the conflicted ways in which women labourers existed within communities of women, as well as agricultural workers. Like Duck, there is a genuine anger in her work, one that laments the lack of opportunities of the many who can never really recover from a lack of education. By 1750 the traditional rural ways of life were disappearing as farming became more mechanized, and many who would once have been employed as agricultural labourers became domestic servants. The chapter concludes with a comparison and contrast of Henry Fielding’s novel, Tom Jones (1749), and Thomas Gray’s poem, Elegy in a Country Churchyard (1750). While Fielding’s narrator looks back with nostalgia to a rapidly disappearing way of life, Gray’s acknowledges its class-bound limitations.

Literature and class

From the Peasants' Revolt to the French Revolution

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