Comments: 12
Great review -- and exactly what I like and admire about Gaskell, too.

Victorian England, like modern U.S. (and British) society, is a money- (and class-) based meritocracy. If you're poor, it's your own fault ... thus you do not deserve any pity or compassion -- or assistance. I recently learned from one of Markk's podcast interviews that it took until almost the beginning of WWI for government to change its approach -- and only because army recruiters were reporting they had to turn down a vastly higher percentage of men for military service than, inter alia, Germany, because they were too feeble to match even the most "generous" interpretation of "able-bodied. Until then, the British "poor laws" had exacerbated the problem instead of fixing it (in part, because once people were shut up in workhouses they no longer showed up as recipients of public aid -- hence the enormous incentive to push them into the poor house); there was no interest in, and hence no understanding of the causes of poverty. Only when it came time to go to war and government was facing the risk of defeat on numbers grounds alone, did they wake up -- after 100 years of an "if you're poor it's your own fault" attitude. God help us if large parts of the Western world are headed that way again -- as they currently most certainly are.
Abandoned by user 3 years ago
Yes - but, of course, the "meritocracy" part of it is based on an accident of birth likely as not, especially in the U.S. Recent studies show that we have less movement between economic quintiles over generations than England, and significantly less than the Scandinavian countries where they have socialist democracies. For every one Howard Schultz, there are 500 Ivanka Trumps, and 50K impoverished Americans who never make it out of poverty even if they work hard their entire lives.
Oh, absolutely -- it's the English class system come back with a vengeance, which is an irony in and of itself, thinking of the ideas behind the foundation of the U.S.; not to mention the despicable attitude of attaching blame to being *born* poor (and never being allowed into a position where you would be able to do anything about it, either).
Mike Finn 3 years ago
I have a slightly different view. I think that most of the change in Britain that stopped poverty from being a crime was driven by the actions of the Trade Union movement and by the Labour Party. Clem Attlee's creation of the Welfare State after World War II changed the rules and for a while, everyone benefitted.
For at least the past decade, the English government has been conducting a well-planned war against the poor, especially poor women. They want the old world back and they seem to be on plan. Take a look at the UN report on poverty in the UK. It will either make you weep or make you mad.
Abandoned by user 3 years ago
Why can't it be both, really?

I mean, it's true that young people with rickets are fairly useless as cannon fodder for waging war. It's also true that there are plenty of people who yearn for the days when those nasty sluts and their unsightly bastard offspring would die quietly in a workhouse somewhere out of sight so the affluent don't have to look at them, unless they can be useful as chimney sweeps or stable hands.
That, at least, is the opinion of the author Markk interviewed in the podcast linked above. It was "oh sh*t we don't even have enough cannon fodder" that sounded the alarm bells -- and set in motion the kind of thinking that eventually made the post-WWII welfare state possible.
Merle 3 years ago
Thanks for the detailed review! I always do appreciate spoiler alerts, because while it may have been published in 1848, in the late 20th and early 21st century I've never been present when someone discussed the plot details or ending of this book. :) It's only the very best-known classics whose endings make themselves known to all via cultural osmosis, in my experience anyway.
Abandoned by user 3 years ago
That's fair enough. I usually warn because I once had someone get really upset with me for "spoiling" the death of Beth March in Little Women, which seems sort of like spoiling that Anna Karenina tosses herself in front of a train. I feel like not knowing these things requires a level of cultural blindness that no one can be required to enable.

But you're right - the plot points of more obscure classics don't make it into the common cultural lexicon in the same way. And I'm always very careful not to spoil classic mysteries because for many people, the puzzle is the point!
Mike Finn 3 years ago
I agree about her relevance today. I've done a lot of work around AI, automation, digitization and Internet of Things. One of the things that surprises me is how often the people promoting these technologies label them as "The Fourth Industrial Revolution" as if that were positive marketing. I remind them that the first industrial revolution in England ripped society apart, exploited child labour, replaced skilled men with underpaid women, created slums, large scale pollution, spread disease and created a concentration of wealth in the hands of men who felt no obligation to the people whose labour enriched them. Unless you were a mill owner, the industrial revolution was about as much fun as the black death.

Then I ask them to show me why having high streets boarded up and malls boarded up and replaced by digital retail, work that is mostly done by the most vulnerable being automated out existence or performed by robots, and the only people making money being the people who own the technology will be any less of a disaster.

The most common response is that I'm too old to get how wonderful this all is. The next is to say "you can't stop progress.."

Maybe I should ask them to read Gaskell.
Abandoned by user 3 years ago
I think that people of means desperately want to believe that inequity can be solved through charity. Which reminds me of this piece by Stephen King:

But all this does is perpetuate the problem.

Mike Finn 3 years ago
That's a great link. I follow King on Twitter but I hadn't seen this.
The rich have got a whole lot richer recently and much of what we're seeing with Bannon and Cambridge Analytica is funded by the Mercers and the Koch brothers to weaken governments' ability to tax. One of the main drivers behind Brexit is that the EU will make it harder for billionaires to avoid tax from April this year. Brexit is designed to turn the UK into a tax haven to hide money from the EU.