Saturday 30 January 2010

"Will the Real George Mellor Please Stand Up?"

William Marshall, 'The Depiction of West Ridding Luddism in Victorian Fiction'

In 1812, there was a rising of the Luddites in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and in 1813 there were executions. Were they political, or purely industrial in motive? They were certainly bloody. The complaints of the weavers, in response to increading industrialisation and the Napoleaonic Wars lead to machine destruction, violence and murder. These risings became mythic, and gained a great status in fiction in the 19th century - what was the motive for the persistant interest?

There was a ready made narrative, ready made characters, sitting there waiting to be molded according the the political motivations of the author. George Mellor became a great villain of Victorian fiction.

Shirley, by Charlotte Bronte, was published in 1849, was written from a middle class perspective. It was very much focussed on gender roles, and bore little relation to 'Sad Times', by Arthur Lodge, who wanted to show them as misguided, still violent, but a suffering sad group, whose living conditions were shocking, lead by unnamed leaders with wider political goals. There were many political commentaries in subsequent novels. There certainly was a lot of manipulation which went on, dependent upon the situations of the time and prevailing societal attitudes.

Particular characters usually appear in these situations. George Mellor is one of those who arose in the Luddite fictions. Under different names, perhaps, archetypes begin to appear, heroes and villains. We are always creating myths for our history - Robin Hood, the Green Man, Richard the III. We know, of course, that real people are never so one dimensional, but infrequently in such historical or political texts do people stand for people. Rather, they stand for ideas, for themes, for standpoints, for events.

It's fascinating to use literature as historical comment. I think that we fail to see the resource that it really is. We are very ready to read books as truth depending upon how it is presented - and this presentation begs the question as to the veracity of our reliance on sources deemed 'historical' and those considered 'fictional'. In a sense, all that we present is a fiction, a representation.