The eccentric domain : Wordsworth, the Lake District and the early Victorian industrial novel
The first half of the 19th century saw the emergence of the world's first modern industrial nation, and the transformation of England from a rural and agrarian to an urban and industrial economy. These changes were accompanied by an alteration in the relations between the artist and society. Artistic activity of all kinds comes to be regarded as apart from, and fundamentally opposed to, the material and spiritual characteristics of the new order. The so-called Industrial Novels of the 1840s and '50s, along with some other closely related works, reflect this displacement of the artist from the central economic endeavour of the na tion , offering ideologically cautious, but imaginatively highly charged statements of dissent from its perceived drift. In thus orienting themselves the authors of these novels drew decisive inspiration from Wordsworth. His Lyrical Ballads Preface is an early and influential manifesto of political and cultural eccentricity, offering a provisional analysis of the disparate phenomena which consti tute the centre, or metropolis, in English life. Many poems in the collection originate novel strategies for circumscribing its hegemony. This thesis aims to isolate Wordsworth's contribution to this field, and to trace his influence on three mid-19th-century novelists who address similar issues: Mrs Gaskell, Emily Bronte and Charles Dickens. The Introduction begins by examining the critical reception of the Industrial Novels, and the wider question of Wordsworth's reception by the Victorians. It elaborates a spatial model of centricity and eccentricity applicable both to Wordsworth and to the novelists in question, pointing to the long historical tradition of dissent locating itself in geographic and economic margins. Finally, it focuses on the Lake District, by far the most culturally significant of these margins in the 19th century, recounting the stages whereby its bearing on the problems of the new urban-industrial society came to be widely acknowledged along lines first proposed by Wordsworth. Chapter 1 looks first at Wordsworth's carefully crafted relationship with his society, and the extent to which, in situating himself in the Lake District, he was building on an eccentric focus already in existence. It examines the factors which induced him to adopt this stance, and the ways in which he sought to appropriate, and sustain imaginatively, his own "eccentric domain". In particular, it seeks to distinguish two contradictory trajectories - inward and outward - and the manoeuvres to which each gives rise. It then looks closely at a number of shorter poems, illustrative of th7 variety of what I term "topographical strategies", wh1ch Wordsworth evolves in order both to defend this domain against incursions from an aggrandising centre, and to combat the centre on its own terrain. I end by looking briefly a t certain factors including his supposed apostasy which complicate the Victorian reception of Wordsworth, and which go some way towards explaining the characteristically oblique homage of Dickens and Emily Bronte. Mrs Gaskell, the subject of Chapter 2, represents a remarkably pure, if occasionally sentimental version of the Victorian Wordsworth, carrying his enterprise into the heart of the industrial city. In Mary Barton she elaborates on Wordsworthian hints of the transfiguring power of the imagination, to create in Alice Wilson a memorable characterisation of eccentric virtue, an alternative moral centre. By furnishing genealogies for her characters she maps out an underlying geography which subverts the symbolic and ideological centricity of Victorian Manchester. Chapter 3 goes on to examine Wuthering Heights, which also has an underlying genealogical structure, and establishes the close kinship between its landscape and the Lake District. Emily Bronte memorably abstracts and intensifies the eccentric domain, internalising it (the familiar inward trajectory), but investing it with such energy that it acquires a quasi-revolutionary potential. In spite of major differences of temperament and social affiliation, Dickens, the subject of Chapter 4, shares with Wordsworth an underlying hostility to the 'driven impetus' of his society. Thus the specifically metropolitan sources of his inspiration are properly interpreted as celebrations of eccentricity. He reproduces both the inward and outward trajectories embodied in Wordsworth's eccentric enterprise, but remains reluctant to acknowledge their provenance. The chapter concludes wi th an account of Hard Times, his most forthright engagement with the new indliBtrial forces of the centre. Here problems of serial publication provoked an uncomfortable identification, as artist, with the Coketown operatives, both drawn into unwilling collaboration with alien forces. A necessary release, negotiated through Stephen Blackpool's Wordsworthian death, appears to capitulate to the inward trajectory, but is transformed by Dickens's metropolitan insights into a much more positive reassertion of the eccentric domain.