Gathering pace
Towards the revolutions, 1750–98
in Literature and class
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Chapter 6 studies the relationship between literature and class from the onset of the agricultural revolution to the impact of the French Revolution. Adam Smith saw the benefits of the division of labour, which could create hitherto unimaginable prosperity. Others saw a future characterized by alienation from nature and the destruction of stabile communities. While enthusiasts for ballads and the poems of the bardic Ossian looked to recover what they could of the past, the middle-class cult of sensibility, introduced by Henry McKenzie’s novel, The Man of Feeling and other works, created a culture that enabled readers to condemn what they witnessed without having to take action. Frances Burney’s novels condemn the exploitation of servants, and the ways in which a culture of politeness is deployed to disguise vicious class bullying. George Crabbe and William Cowper demonstrate that other writers were also aware of the increasingly dangerous class divisions that were emerging in the 1780s. Robert Burns also developed his belief in a common humanity, writing in support of the American War of Independence against British occupation. Edmund Burke’s attack on the French Revolution led to a number of responses. Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine argued that the upper class had to be removed in order for society to progress. William Blake opposed Adam Smith’s belief in the division of labour through his integrated artistic practices; William Wordsworth (and Samuel Taylor Coleridge) produced poetry that used ‘the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society’.

Literature and class

From the Peasants' Revolt to the French Revolution

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