Gaskell, Engels and the ‘Shock City’:
Two Responses to Industrial Manchester in the 1840s
According to Asa Briggs, by the 1840s Manchester had become the ‘shock city’ of Britain’s industrial era, heralding a new form of urban existence and a new structure of social relations. Friedrich Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton are responses to this new type of city, but ones which propose different solutions to the crises it presents. For Engels the fundamental crisis of Manchester is its irreconcilable class differences, a state of affairs from which only a working-class revolution can produce genuine change; for Gaskell the crisis is above all a failure of communication, leading her to argue for improved relationships between employers and employed. Despite their different approaches to crisis and conflict in the city, each writer’s form and methodology directs his or her ideas on the resolution of its problems. For Engels, primarily concerned the interactions of classes, to understand Manchester requires a comprehensive approach that pays attention to official data, although this broadly economics-driven position is challenged by his sympathetic depictions of working-class suffering. For Gaskell, writing a work of narrative fiction, Manchester is read through individual inhabitants, whose knowledge of each other is blocked by their environment and class separation, so that overcoming such blockages offers a model for crisis resolution. Despite their differences, both writers seek to formulate an adequate response to Manchester, but are hampered from doing so by the unrepresentability of the city. Both texts are afflicted by the shock which Briggs identifies as central to the experience of 1840s Manchester, and both replicate this crisis in their own crises of form, narrative and representation. Ultimately, crisis and response are found to be inseparable in these texts. Keywords: Nineteenth-century, City, Manchester, Crisis, Gaskell, Engels, Industrial, Shock,
Trauma, Mary Barton, The Condition of the Working Class in England. According to Asa Briggs, in his influential study of Victorian cities, Manchester was ‘the shock city of the 1840s, attracting visitors from all parts of the world, forcing to the surface what seemed to be intractable problems of society and government’. It was a town which had grown rapidly, its population increasing six-fold in the sixty years to 1831, with a proportional growth in its industrial infrastructure. By the mid-1830s, Manchester had provoked a series of condemnatory reports by commentators such as Alexis de Tocqueville, Peter Gaskell and Dr. James P. Kay, all of whom deplored the poverty and squalor of its vast population of factory workers. Manchester seemed not only a city in crisis, but a city that was emblematic of crisis as such; a place in which a new system of manufacturing combined with the excesses of laissez-faire capitalism to reshape social relations and make shock a central principle of urban existence. Any text which hoped to accurately depict or comprehend Manchester at this time had to engage with the town’s power to shock and overwhelm; yet these aspects of Manchester, which made the city fascinating for visitors and writers, were also those elements which made it impossible to fully represent or replicate in writing. One of the ways that Friedrich Engels and Elizabeth Gaskell’s accounts of Manchester life engage with the city is to incorporate, in different ways, elements of shock into the fabric of the text, making these texts themselves sites of crisis. Briggs’s reading of Manchester has been developed in environmental terms by Harold Platt in his book Shock Cities, where he is interested in the parallel between Manchester in I would like to acknowledge the AHRC’s support for my PhD, which has allowed me to pursue the inquiries that have led to this paper. 1 Asa Briggs, Victorian Cities (London: Odhams Press, 1963), p.51. 2 Briggs, p.85. Regarding the use of the terms ‘town’ and ‘city’, Manchester technically became a city in 1853, but Briggs maintains it is legitimate to refer to it as a city before this date, pointing to the historical and social resonances of the term. The term ‘city’ is usually preferred in this essay. Briggs, pp.30-32. 3 De Tocqueville’s Journeys to England and Ireland was published in 1835; Gaskell’s The Manufacturing Population of England was published in 1833; Kay’s The Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes Employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester was published in 1832. 4 For a reading that sees Mary Barton as part of a literary response to laissez-faire capitalism in England see Louis Cazamian, The Social Novel in England 1830-1850, trans. by Martin Fido (London: Routledge and Kegan 1973). the 1840s and Chicago in the 1890s. For Briggs, what is shocking about Manchester, as later with Chicago, is its embodiment of the new and unexplainable: he quotes, for example, the Manchester Guardian’s 1832 description of Manchester as a town ‘without previous parallel in the history of the world’. As well as expressing this sudden newness which seemed to mark Manchester out as distinctive and peculiar, the term ‘shock city’ also implies that it was capable of producing a powerful physical response on those who experienced it; a meaning of ‘shock’ defined by the OED as ‘A sudden debilitating effect produced by over-stimulation of nerves, intense pain, violent emotion, or the like; the condition of nervous exhaustion resulting from this’. In his work on Charles Baudelaire’s poetry, Walter Benjamin makes an association between this somatic understanding of shock and the experience of living in Nineteenth-century Paris, drawing on Freud’s understanding of consciousness as a system whose primary job is to protect the organism from the stimuli of the external world. For Freud, trauma (which is synonymous with shock) occurs when stimuli break through this barrier and overwhelm the body’s defensive energies. Benjamin argues that Baudelaire ‘placed shock experience at the very center of his art’, referring specifically to ‘the close connection in Baudelaire between the figure of shock and contact with the urban masses’. For Benjamin, shock is a somatic response to the nineteenth-century city and its crowds, and one which demands a new form of writing; in Baudelaire this is seen in the way that ‘shock defense [sic] is rendered in the image of combat’. The writer finds himself in conflict with the city, which both assaults him (the earliest meaning of ‘shock’ in this sense is that of a 5 Harold L. Platt, Shock Cities: The Environmental Transformation and Reform of Manchester and Chicago (London: University of Chicago Press, 2005). 6 Briggs, p.52. 7 OED, ‘Shock’ n.3, 5a <accessed 16 September 2011]. 8 See, in particular, Freud’s ‘Project for A Scientific Psychology’ in The Standard Edition, Vol.1 (1886-1889), ed. by James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press, 1966), pp.283-397. 9 Walter Benjamin, ‘On Some Motifs in Baudelaire’ in The Writer of Modern Life ed. by Michael W. Jennings (London: The Belknap Press, 2006), pp.170-212 (p.178, p.180). 10 Benjamin, p.178. See also Sigmund Freud, ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’ in The Standard Edition, Vol. 18 (1920-22), ed. by James Strachey (London: Vintage, 2001), pp.3-66. military encounter) and resists his attempts to replicate in language its physical effects. For Benjamin, writing which attempts to respond to the modern city is writing which is itself in shock; moreover, this type of shocked writing, by recording or enacting (though without representing) the encounter between subject and city, is able to offer insight into that encounter. The crisis of the city, the shock that it produces, is here inseparable from the city’s resistance to any sort of written representation; paradoxically, only writing which registers this resistance to representation in its own form can offer an at least partially accurate record Form and Methodology: Shock at the Origin
Friedrich Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England, published in 1845, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel Mary Barton, published in 1848, are both responses to Manchester that can be thought of in these terms, as records of ‘shock experience’. Both texts are written by people who were, to differing extents, outsiders in the city, and therefore familiar with the shock generated by encountering it. Gaskell moved to Manchester after her marriage in 1832, making it her home, whereas Engels lived in the city for less than two years before writing his book (though he returned to live in Manchester from 1849 until 1870). Despite their similarities, including an often-noted affinity in their depictions of suffering and injustice, the two texts offer fundamentally divergent readings of Manchester’s problems. For Engels, only a working-class revolution could bring about the radical change he sees as necessary in such an inequitable city, whereas for Gaskell sympathetic Christian understanding between masters and workers has the potential to gradually transform the lives of both. Each reading is 11 OED, ‘shock’ n,3, 1a: ‘The encounter of an armed force with the enemy in a charge or onset; also, the encounter of two mounted warriors or jousters charging one another’. 12 See, for example, Steven Marcus, Engels, Manchester and the Working Class (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974). fundamentally and dialectically linked to the methodologies and forms of writing that Engels and Gaskell employ, just as for Benjamin the shock of the city re-emerges in the ‘collapsing words’ of Baudelaire’s poetry. Baudelaire’s collapsing words are an eruption in poetic form of the ungraspable and ever-changing nature of the modern city, a process that parallels Gaskell’s and Engels’ texts, which are themselves sites of confrontation with an ungraspable city, though in markedly different ways. The prefaces of the two books reveal much about the methodologies and motivations of Gaskell and Engels, and it is these aspects of their work which, because they play a key part in forming and directing each of their approaches, are perhaps most revealing about their divergent readings of Manchester. In Engels’s 1845 preface to the first German edition, he A knowledge of proletarian conditions is absolutely necessary to provide solid ground for socialist theories, on the one hand, and for judgements about their right to exist, on the other; and to put an end to all sentimental dreams and fancies pro and con. But proletarian conditions exist in their classical form, in their perfection, only in the British Isles, particularly in England proper. Besides, only in England has the necessary material been as completely collected and put on record by official inquiries as is essential for any in the least exhaustive presentation of the subject. Engels, then, aims to produce a work that will provide a foundation for theories of socialism, and which, unlike certain aspects of Gaskell’s fiction, such as the treatment of Alice Wilson’s stroke in Mary Barton, must emphatically not be sentimental. This rejection of sentiment, 13 Benjamin, p.180. 14 Note also that Benjamin’s projected title for his book on Baudelaire, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, suggests that Benjamin considered Baudelaire’s use of poetic form (his lyricism) to be inseparable from his portrayal of modernity. See Michael W. Jennings, ‘Introduction’ in The Writer of Modern Life, pp.1-25, p.10. 15 Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (London: Penguin, 2009), p.34. along with an interest in official data and his reference to the ‘classical form’ of proletarianism, indicates Engels’s connection to classical economics, the school of thought developed by thinkers such as Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill that approaches economics in an abstracted form as a self-regulating system based on the actions of individual agents – a view which had, by the early Nineteenth-century become widely associated with Manchester and the Liberal party. Engels is diametrically opposed to the claims made by classical economics (in particular its argument in favour of market liberalisation), but for that very reason always remains within its terms of reference. Witness, for example, his decision to ‘present proof from Liberal sources in order to defeat the liberal bourgeoisie by casting their own words in their teeth’. Engels aims to work within a framework established by British economists, philosophers and other servants of the state, but to turn the conclusions of such thinkers on their head, using the evidence provided by liberalism to prove the necessity of its downfall. This is one way in which crisis enters into the text at the outset: Engels’s writing positions the reality of the city as a source of disruption within the most official documents of the nation, its shock-power working against a dominant class that desires the maintenance of stability and order. Manchester, according to this approach, argues for its own abolition, just as liberal sources can be made to argue for the overturning of liberal thought. By contrast with Engels’s broad economic overview, Gaskell offers justifications for her writing that are intensely personal. The preface to Mary Barton opens with a statement commonly taken to refer to the death of Gaskell’s son in 1845: ‘Three years ago I became anxious (from circumstances that need not be more fully alluded to) to employ myself in writing a work of fiction’. The work of writing Mary Barton is also the work of mourning, or of distraction, or of recovery from the shock of this death. Gaskell goes on to offer a second reason for writing Mary Barton, one which has developed from her sympathy with the ‘care- worn men’ who work in Manchester’s factories, and their anger against the rich: The more I reflected on this unhappy state of things between those so bound to each other by common interests, as the employers and the employed must ever be, the more anxious I became to give some utterance to the agony which from time to time convulses this dumb people; the agony of suffering without the sympathy of the happy, or of erroneously believing this is the case. In describing to the reader this anxious reflection, Gaskell’s novel begins with an assumption which it is at the centre of Engels’s project to disprove: that employers and employed share With these two justifications for writing, the preface introduces two forms of shock into the novel, both of which are said to originate the text. Firstly there is Gaskell’s own shock at her son’s death, which, as with all trauma for Freud, is marked by the exclusion of the event itself from conscious thought; the death remains undescribed, present in the text only as an unnamed source of anxiety. The whole novel can, as a result of this disclosure/exclusion, be taken as a symptom of shock, in which the repressed cause of the shock (Gaskell’s son’s death) returns in the main body of the novel through the deaths of Tom Barton and Harry Carson, both themselves beloved sons. The second shock indicated in the preface is the ‘agony’ which ‘convulses’ the ‘dumb people’ of the city, a description that seems to reflect the experience of electric shock. In one of the novel’s most famous passages the narrator compares the uneducated workers to Frankenstein’s monster, a creature conventionally depicted as being brought to life by electric shock, saying that ‘[t]he actions of the uneducated seem to me typified in those of Frankenstein, that monster of many human 17 Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton (Oxford: OUP, 2006), p.3. qualities, ungifted with a soul, a knowledge of the difference between good and evil’. In Mary Shelley’s novel, Victor Frankenstein’s narration of how he brings his creation to life describes the use of indeterminate ‘instruments of life’ to ‘infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet’, upon which the creature responds with ‘a convulsive motion [that] agitated its limbs’. The specific cause of the shock is (as with the death of Gaskell’s son) excluded from the text, but the convulsion of the creature’s limbs is a shock-effect that is reflected and imitated in the agony that ‘convulses’ the workers of Gaskell’s preface. Gaskell’s description of the workers is rendered ambiguous by the comparison: though it seems that shock has struck the workers dumb, shock may also be the power that brings them to life, however monstrous such life may be. This suggests another meaning for ‘shock city’: the shock city is one has the capacity to raise the working classes to life, that is, to violent political action, perhaps directed against their ‘creators’ (the bourgeois mill-owners). This is precisely the process which plays out in Mary Barton when the men of the Trade Union agree to murder Harry Carson, the son of a mill-owner. Fear of the monstrous working-class contributes to the production of a phenomenon of Manchester that is observed a person may live in it for years, and go in and out daily without coming into contact with a working people’s quarter or even with workers, that is, so long as he confines himself to his business or to pleasure walks. The bourgeoisie protects itself from the working people, who now themselves take on the character of the monstrous, and of shock, and must therefore be avoided. Chapter 18 of Mary Barton describes the moment at which the news of Harry Carson’s death reaches his sisters, 18 Mary Barton, p.165. 19 Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (London: Penguin, 2003), p.58. 20 Mary Barton, p.185. 21 Engels, p.85. in their ‘comfortable, elegant, well-lighted drawing-room’. In this chapter, shock enters the middle-class interior, the structure of which operates to exclude both trauma and its representatives, the working class. The elegant drawing-room works exactly like Mrs Carson’s ‘closely shut-up carriage’, which prevents her from seeing the reality of the city when she ventures out. The Carson’s house replicates the wider structure of the city as identified by Engels, while both structures function like the system of consciousness for Freud, that is, they work to exclude traumatic stimuli and dampen shock. In Mary Barton, John Barton’s act of violence in shooting Carson overwhelms this defensive barrier, inflicting the shock of the city upon a middle-class family who are, presumably, of the same class as the projected readers of Gaskell’s book. The shock of the city produces the working class, who then become carriers of shock, just as shock drives the production of Gaskell’s novel. Gaskell’s novel, then, like Frankenstein’s creation, is impelled into being by the two forms of shock described by the preface, shocks which form that basis of the text’s very existence. Shock is primarily registered not in the main body of the text (though it enters into it), but in the preface; it is not the place where the narrative begins, but rather the absent foundation on which the text-as-structure is built – a foundation which, like the traumatic event, can only be inferred from its effects. Gaskell’s text is as much a response to shock as Engels’ is, though he registers his shock more clearly and readily. City and Text/Crisis and Response
Mary Barton and The Condition of the Working Class in England can be usefully placed in dialogue with each other, with each text showing evidence of its own and the other’s incompleteness, so that both texts come to testify to the unrepresentability of 1840s Manchester, a characteristic which is inseparably linked to the city’s production of shock. One key distinction between the two writers is that Gaskell’s text is not directed downwards from theory to reality, as Engels’s sometimes claims to be, but upwards, seeking to express the unuttered agony of a ‘dumb people’. Where Engels’s purported focus is on broad social dynamics, Gaskell is always primarily concerned with the working-class lives and relationships that have frequently been the most critically praised aspects of her work. This distinction between the two writers is referred to by John Lucas in his book on the provincial novel. Lucas suggests that Gaskell ‘understands things that [Engels] didn’t, knows about matters of which he’s inevitably ignorant, and therefore implicitly challenges his position’. Lucas is also critical of Gaskell, noting that throughout her novel , alienation between classes is ‘put down to an unfortunate ignorance which it is of course the task of Mary Barton to dispel’, whereas Engels is ‘properly scornful of the dream of reconciliation that Mrs Gaskell intermittently entertains in her novel’. It is important to recognize that the form in which Gaskell writes – the Realist middle-class novel – is disposed towards both detailed descriptions of individual lives and attributes (what Lucas calls ‘understanding’) and resolution through a common understanding between two people, particularly in marriage (what Lucas calls ‘reconciliation’). In Mary Barton, for example, the marriage of Mary and Jem Wilson after many misunderstandings between them parallels the sympathetic coming together of John Barton and Mr. Carson (whose son John has killed) at John’s deathbed, as 23 See, for example, Kathleen Tillotson, Novels of the Eighteen-Forties (London: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1954), p.203; Raymond Williams, Culture and Society: 1780-1950 (London: Chatto and Windus, 1967), p.87. 24 John Lucas, The Literature of Change (Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1977), p.46, p.43, p.44. The eyes of John Barton grew dim with tears. Rich and poor, masters and men, were then brothers in the deep suffering of the heart; for was not this the very anguish he had felt for little Tom, in years so long gone by, that they seemed like another life. Similarly, in Gaskell’s novel North and South, Margaret Hale’s coming together with the manufacturer John Thornton – the culmination of a gradual recognition of their concealed love for each other – parallels the development of a common understanding between Thornton and the workman Higgins. In each novel, a traditional romantic resolution in which both parties recognize and admit their true feelings provides the blueprint for the overcoming of obstacles between employer and employed. This form of writing, therefore, tends to produce both the strengths and weaknesses identified by Lucas, just as the sociological approach employed by Engels produces both a more incisive analysis and a more limited understanding of working-class relations at an individual level. A second, more subtle challenge to Engels emerges from Gaskell’s preface when she writes ‘I know nothing of Political Economy, or the theories of trade. I have tried to write truthfully; and if my accounts agree or clash with any system, the agreement or disagreement is unintentional’. With this statement, Gaskell simultaneously authorizes and de-authorizes her text. If the author of Mary Barton knows nothing of Political Economy, her work is devalued for any discussion in a philosophical or scientific register, such as that adopted by Engels. But at the same time, Gaskell’s statement separates truthful writing and economic theory, offering her fiction as an alternative, and perhaps better, means by which to assess and understand Manchester. This process is recognized by Elizabeth Starr, who argues that Mary Barton and North and South ‘insistently write fiction onto the industrial landscape’ and thereby defend the position of literary work as ‘a productive and corrective form of urban 25 Mary Barton, p.353. 26 Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South (Oxford: OUP, 2008). 27 Mary Barton, p.4. industry’. From this perspective, Mary Barton is a response to Manchester which offers the novel itself as an alternative mode of industrial work, and which constitutes part of Gaskell’s negotiation of her position as a female writer in nineteenth-century Britain, a process discussed in detail by Hilary Schor in Scheherazade in the Marketplace. In Schor’s view, Gaskell seeks to open up new possibilities in fiction, particularly by drawing attention to the connections between political and domestic economy. In this case, Gaskell’s text is less involved in rejecting political economy outright than in reshaping and re-contextualizing its position in a broader range of human – and particularly female – experience. If Gaskell’s writing is also a form of urban industry, it is part of the city it seeks to describe, so that that text and city are no longer easily separable. In fact, they come together under the heading of the single word ‘shock’, a word which can refer both to an event and the reaction to it (this duality is particularly clear in the case of an electric shock, which both is and produces shock). In this way, the text is caught up in the undecidability of the city it confronts: the text has no privileged position exterior to the city from which to judge and asses it, instead it is just one part of its complex whole. The text is not a response to the shock of the city in the sense of being an explanation or rationalisation of that shock; it is a response which is part of the event itself, making it both more authentic and less complete. In Engels’s case, a similar entanglement of text and city can be traced from his belief in the simultaneous necessity and inevitability of socialist revolution, a belief built on the assumption that there is a deep and irreversible division between factory-owners and workers. For Engels, ‘the war of the poor against the rich now carried on in detail and indirectly will 28 Elizabeth Starr, ‘“A great engine for good”: The Industry of Fiction in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton and North and South’, Studies in the Novel 34.4 (Winter 2002), 385-402 (p.385, p.387). 29 Hilary M. Schor, Scheherazade in the Marketplace: Elizabeth Gaskell and the Victorian Novel (Oxford: OUP, 1992). become direct and universal. It is too late for a peaceful solution’. Such extreme division results from the degrading treatment suffered by industrial workers, yet this treatment, which Engels finds repugnant, is also necessary as the means by which revolution will be brought about. Engels’s own theory thus places him in an ambivalent position with regards to specific instances of suffering: he is directed by human sympathy to deplore them, yet compelled to approve them as the route to future liberation. In an instance of this ambivalence, Engels at first condemns the area of Manchester near the river Irk as ‘a planless knotted chaos of houses, more or less on the verge of uninhabitableness, whose unclean interiors fully correspond with their filthy external surroundings’. Yet he goes on to argue in a later The great cities have transformed the disease of the social body, which appears in chronic form in the country, into an acute one, and so made manifest its real nature and the means of curing it [.] Only when estranged from his employer, when convinced that the sole bond between employer and employee is the bond of pecuniary profit, when the sentimental bond between them, which stood not the slightest test, had wholly fallen away, then only did the worker begin to recognize his own interests and develop independently. It is only the newly industrial cities, with their inhuman conditions, which can break all bonds between workers and masters, allowing the workers to recognize their own interests and come together. For this reason, Engels is able to state in the same sentence that cities such as Manchester have both made the disease of the social body acute and revealed the cure for that social body (the breaking of sentimental bonds between classes and the resulting independence of the workers). Engels is here reading Manchester as the pharmakon, the 30 Engels, p.292. 31 Engels, p.90. 32 Engels, pp.148-149. Greek term discussed by Derrida which simultaneously means both poison and remedy, and which therefore stands for the play of différance or heterogeneity in a text that renders it impossible to definitively interpret. In this way, Engels’s reading unconsciously reveals the indecipherability of the town he is attempting to analyse: it is not the case that Engels is mistaken to both deplore and celebrate the conditions produced by Manchester, but that no single, clear reading of the city is possible. His ambivalence about suffering is an ambivalence which arises from Manchester itself, and which is in fact the very thing that constitutes it as a site of crisis, if crisis can be taken to be a moment of fracture in which unitary meaning is broken, and decision is rendered impossible. It has become clear that the forms in which Engels and Gaskell write are themselves sites of crisis, so that the lines between crisis and response have become irretrievably blurred. In the case of Gaskell, Catherine Gallagher has argued convincingly that Mary Barton forms part of an ‘industrial reformation of English fiction’, in which industrial novelists ‘uncovered the tensed structure of their own form, making the always unsettled assumptions of the novel the objects of their scrutiny’. In Gallagher’s reading, Mary Barton employs a whole series of different narrative modes, including sentimental fiction, farce, tragedy and melodrama. Employing this wide range of narrative modes suggests the inadequacy of each, as Gaskell tries one after another, but never settles on a single mode of writing. She finally finds it impossible to satisfactorily conclude the narrative in the manner which these various forms demand. If this is the case, the novel as a whole is searching for, and failing to find, a narrative mode capable of communicating the agony of a dumb people, or, as we might rephrase it, a shocked people. If Gaskell’s proposed solution to the crisis of Manchester is to bring about genuine communication, then such a solution is problematised by the unsettled 33 See Jacques Derrida, ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’ in Dissemination, trans. by Barbara Johnson (London: Continuum, 2004), pp.67-186. 34 Catherine Gallagher, The Industrial Reformation: Social Discourse and Narrative Form 1832-1867. form in which it is proposed. If Mary Barton is the response to a crisis, that is, it is a response which repeats the terms of that crisis; it is fractured by the trauma of the shock city, rendering it unable to communicate, just as Mary traumatically succumbs to ‘delirium’ in the court- room as a response to the impossibility of the choice between saving Jem Wilson and saving her father, finally collapsing into a state in which communication is itself impossible. A similar congruence of the problems of the city and the text is at work in The Condition of the Working Class in England, according to Grace Kehler’s essay on ‘Gothic Pedagogy and Victorian Reform Treatises’. For Kehler, Engels’s text, along with other reform treatises, makes use of what she calls ‘gothic documentary’ or ‘gothic technology’, that is, it records sensation in a manner more commonly associated with a gothic narrative than an economic or sociological treatise. Such gothic documentary is found in Engels’s excessive and synaesthetic descriptions of working-class neighbourhoods. It takes place not through the logical recording of facts, but instead ‘refuses the priority of reason over the sensate and social construction over biological determinism’. As the gothic tends towards the excessive, such a form of writing entails a ‘crisis of sensibility’, in which the writer’s senses are overwhelmed by the impressions they seek to convey. This is writing that is in shock, the shock city now reconfigured as the shock text. That Kehler is able to make such a reading points towards the existence of a crisis of representation within Engels’s text (just as in Gaskell’s) in which the excessive and unrepresentable nature of the industrial city precludes its representation by the facts and data which Engels purports to prefer, turning him towards techniques which, in their evocation of gothic literature’s use of the sublime, register this unrepresentability. Kehler argues that the authority of the author is dislocated in this form of writing, in which ‘attaining knowledge entails emotional upheaval, coming to terms with the 35 Mary Barton, pp.316-17. 36 Grace Kehler, ‘Gothic Pedagogy and Victorian Reform Treatises’, Victorian Studies 50:3 (Spring 2008), 437-456 (p.439). inchoate – that which lies beyond conception – and the temporary suspension of boundaries between self and other’. It is not just the case, then, that Manchester cannot be adequately represented – though this is true, as Engels himself intimates when he states that it is ‘impossible to convey an idea’ of Manchester’s worst areas – but that the very attempt to produce a representation disables the possibility of a secure authoritative self; that is, of a figure who stands outside the city, rather than within it, and who would be able to objectively adjudicate on its structure and meaning. To write the shock city in a way which is in any way accurate requires the author to experience shock, and thereby lose the ability to depict the city as in any way complete. The impossibility of representing the city is the aporia which results from the overwhelming of the subject by shock; a process at work throughout both these books, in which text and city, crisis and response are equally inseparable. 37 Kehler, p.442. 38 Engels quoted in Kehler, p.443.


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