From its beginnings in England up until the present time, theIndustrial Revolution has had a devastating effect on families. Inreading Hughes’s story about the Luddites, the reader can see manyparallels with what has been happening in modern times.
THE RAPE OF THE ROSE focuses on the family of Mor Greave, anindependent handloom weaver who is struggling to maintain hisindependence as more and more machinery is introduced into histrade. His family’s cottage-industry mode of existence isdisintegrating. Instead of staying at home to help him in hiscraft, his wife and two sons are forced to sell their labor at alocal textile mill, which is graphically portrayed as a hell onearth.
Children as young as six are forced to serve the voraciousmachines for twelve hours a day, often being maimed or killed bythe primitive equipment and being beaten unmercifully if they slowdown. Orphans are taken from workhouses by the cartload and soldas factory slaves. Female children are often sexually victimizedby their brutal masters.
Mor Greave is a member of a secret association known as theLuddites, who believe rather naively that they can solve theworkers’ problems by destroying the new spinning and weavingmachines which are the driving force behind Britain’s quest forempire. Mor has to flee the county when a sabotage expedition runsafoul of the law. His fiercely independent son Edwin, only nineyears old, follows his father’s example and runs away from thefactory with a little orphan girl after they have been nearlykilled by floggings. Mor’s wife and fifteen-year-old son losetheir home and turn to revivalist Christianity for solace in theirdestitution.
This is a remarkably fine historical novel based on painstakingresearch. It paints a vivid picture of England during theturbulent period of the introduction of the factory system, theenclosure movement, the Luddite rebellion, and the Napoleonic Wars. The book is particularly significant because the same IndustrialRevolution is still plunging blindly ahead, creating probablelong-term benefits for mankind but definite short-term turmoil inthe form of bankruptcy, poverty, divorce, alcoholism, child abuse,crime, and revolution.
Sources for Further Study
Boston Globe. March 7, 1993, p.45.
The Nation. CCLVI, May 17, 1993, p.667.
San Francisco Chronicle. April 25, 1993, p. REV6.
The Washington Post Book World. XXIII, March 28, 1993, p.8.