Discuss some of the social changes in nineteenth century Britain which Thomas Hardy and Charles dickens wrote about.

Europe entered the industrial age in the 19th century. Factories were established, business profits increased and the economy grew. But these changes brought several problems for the workers. The cities expanded in an unregulated way. The growth of industry was accompanied by an economic philosophy which celebrated the pursuit of profit and undervalued workers.

Some novelists of that time such as Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy were very critical of these developments. They wrote mostly about the effects of industrialisation.

(i) Charles Dickens: Dickens wrote about industrial towns and the plight of the poor in them—smoking chimneys, grim factories, pollution, and identity-less and exploited workers. For instance in his novel Hard Times he describe a fictitious industrial town where workers are presented as ‘hands’, as if they had no identity other than operators of machines. He criticises the greed for profits and the reduction of human beings into tools of production.

In another novel Oliver twist (1838), Dickens focused on the terrible conditions of urban life under industrial capitalism.

(ii) Thomas Hardy: Thomas Hardy, on the other hand, wrote about traditional rural communities of England which were vanishing in the face of rapid industrial growth. He was concerned about the changes which were taking place in old agricultural practice of independent farming to employment of labourers and machines on large farms.

In his novel Mayor of Caster Bridge (1886), Hardy wrote about traditional rural communities of England that were fading. This was the time when farmers fenced off land, bought machines and employed laborers to produce for the market. The old rural cultures with its independent farmers were vanishing. In the novel, he mourns the loss of the more personalized world that is disappearing even as he is aware of its problems and the advantages of the new order.