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The Industrial Revolution altered the economy and lifestyle for people living in nineteenth century England. While they had previously been an agricultural society, growing enough to survive and, for most, never growing wealthy, the Industrial Revolution brought large populations into cities where they laboured in almost entirely unregulated factories. They were paid but in small amounts and this was not always enough for food, rent, medicine and other necessities like coal. Cities quickly became overcrowded, which led to increases in disease and in crime. Queen Victoria was the first monarch to really attempt to do anything about this situation. Under her leadership, workhouses were established to house and provide work for the poor. This built on the church's moral obligation to help the poor, making it the law for the church to assist wherever it could.
In terms of literature, the Romantic movement grew out of the Industrial Revolution. The composers who are assosciated with this movement, men like William Wordsworth, William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, used their writing as a means of making a social commentary on what was occuring. Their writing tended to demonise the city, highlighting the problems that they saw occuring there. This was juxtaposed to a romanticised or idealised countryside. Romantic literature focused on the power of nature and the values that had existed in society prior to the abandonment of agricultural society. Even a single line, such as one from Blake's poem "Auguries of Innocence" highlights this adoration of nature - "To see a world in a grain of sand." He continues to suggest that contradicting these values is a sin - "a robin redbreast in cage/puts all heaven in a rage." The Romantic movement was not limited to poetry. The same ideas and social commentary can be seen in novels also. Consider, for example, Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. The novel starts by highlighting the cruelty and misery of the workhouse, ensuring that all responders are sympathetic towards the protagonist. The imagery used to describe the city focuses on it being dirty, miserable and full of crime. The worst kind of people live in the city, in this case Fagin and his group. Juxtaposed to this image of the new way of life is the kind, benevolent man who rescues Oliver and he, being the embodiment of all things good, lives in the countryside.
So, in short, the Industrial Revolution changed the economy and lifestyle of English people. In this tight class system, it had the greatest impact on the poor. Literature, driven by the composers of the Romantic period, acted as a social commentary on the evils of the Revolution and its consequences while advocating a return to the agrarian values via an idealisation of the countryside.
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