EGH306 : Working-Class Culture Before 1930

Convenor(s): Professor Sue Owen


Please note: This module may or may not run in any individual session. Please check with the course Convenor.

General Information

This unit considers working-class culture from the Industrial Revolution to the General Strike. It explores the development of the working class and of class-consciousness and asks how the working class is to be understood and how they understood and represented themselves. This is an important part of our history but is neglected in comparison to e.g. slavery narratives. A key element is the testimony of working-class people themselves e.g. the memoirs in Factory Lives and other extracts in the Coursepack. It is exciting to find such testimony from people who had never been to school. Our 3 novels are : Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, an “industrial novel” (different from those on the core course), Chartist writing and writing about the working class, such as Engels’ Condition of the Working Classes in England (1844), Robert Tressell’s The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists (1914) and Ellen Wilkinson's Clash  (1929). We will also look at some works of Marx and other socialists, as well as Co-operative women's writing. The picture of working-class life at this time may be a bleak one but we will consider signs of courage, resilience and hope and different ideas for change. Women's position, too, was not simply oppressed but empowered in various ways. The module offers a chance for students who took Lit 246, Working-class Culture After 1900 at level 2, to explore the roots of working-class culture and to go into the issues more fully. The module is the perfect complement to Victorian Literature since much of the background reading will be common to both: why not visit the "underbelly" of the Nineteenth Century?


Two one-hour seminars per week and guided individual study will enable students to study a range of writing by and about the working-class pre-1914 and to reflect upon the issues described above, as well as developing the skills outlined in the previous section.


Assessment is by two essays of 2,000 words each or optional 4,000 word essay. In their essays students will be encouraged to show a sympathetic understanding of early working-class literature and an awareness of different ways of understanding and writing about the working class in the period of its formation as an industrial proletariat. They will be given a range of options to pursue whatever aspects of these issues most interests them. For both essays students are encouraged to do background historical and critical reading.

Contact Details

Professor Sue Owen, tel: +44 (0)114-222-8469

Information last changed: Thursday 07th of April 2016 :: 01:17:08 PM (BST)


The University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK