Annie Besant Article Analysis

1385 words - 6 pages

How does the writer present her thoughts and feelings about aspects of Victorian life?
How far is the extract similar to and different from your wider reading in Victorian literature? You should consider the writer’s choices of form, structure and language, as well as subject matter.

Annie Besant’s article is foremost an impassioned retelling of the worker’s revolt at the Bryant and May match factory, where the insensitivity of the factory owners and the desperation of the female workers is illustrated using bitter and lurid language and imagery with Biblical overtones (Exodus 9:12 shows the Pharaoh hardening his heart to the plight of his slaves, and the image of “...their blood ...view middle of the document...

Darkly, for as in Oliver Twist these “humane regulations” caused “an increase in the undertaker's bill”, and in the match factories of old many women fell victim to conditions such as phossy jaw. Phossy jaw was a debilitating and eventually fatal condition caused by the white phosphorous used in the manufacturing of matches, and was one of the factors that contributed to the 1888 London Matchgirls Strike at the Bryant and May Factory. Despite the passing of safety legislation in 1844 and 1887, the conditions in workhouses, factories or indeed any institution primarily concerned with the labour and care for the poor were dingy and dangerous, bringing death to many; a fact that is supported by the line “...the marble paid for, in very truth, by their blood…”

Furthermore, the description of the enraged women as ‘savage’ draws a parallel between the condition of the working class woman in Britain and that of the oppressed slave or person of colour in the colonies. Despite slavery being abolished 55 years prior to the publication of the article and considered contemptible by the average Victorian , racist ideas still persisted as evidenced by the copious use of derogatory language in everything from the works of Kipling (his poem Loot is notable for this) to those of Joseph Conrad (Marlow in Heart of Darkness takes the rather patronizing view that the black natives are primitive and therefore innocent; a view that can legitimately be called racist because it treats the natives like objects rather than as thinking people). By linking the suffering of the black slave, to the point that Besant implies that the women are in a worse position than the slave — “But who cares for the fate of these white wage slaves?” — Besant forces her audience to consider the implications of their prejudice and disregard for the lives of the working classes, as well as humanising both the slave and the worker by placing two social justice issues against one another. This is also done in a remarkably similar way by William Booth in 1890 book In Darkest England and the Way Out. Booth asks, “May we not… discover within a stone’s throw of our cathedrals and palaces similar horrors to those found in [Africa]?” Indeed, both Bryant, Booth and to a lesser degree Conrad (through the devolution of his European settlers into monsters) felt that the only thing separating “darkest England” from darkest Africa was the artificial facade of ‘civilisation’.

The use of the dialect of the working classes and direct quotes give authenticity to the tale, whilst showing a link between the article and the poems ‘A Lay of the Tambour Frame’ and ‘The Ruined Maid’ by Hamilton and Hardy respectively where the voices of poor women are used for social comment. The language used The Ruined Maid makes extensive use of colloquial speech to denote class, with ‘Melia’s friend stating and in Pygmalion it is a central plot point, with Higgins stating; “You see this creature with her kerbstone...

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