Return to list

The Impact of Industrial Revolution towards Literature in the Eighteenth Century

Anies Rohidayah - 146332018


Industrial Revolution in England which began in the eighteenth century is a turning point towards a new world. The modernization of the cities in England brings tremendous impact not only to the social, economic, and political level but also bring a great influence to the literary work. Industrial revolution brought major changes in the literary works, particularly in terms of theme and language.
Keywords:industrial revolution, theme, language

I. Introduction

M.H. Abrams in line with Aristotle’s idea of mimesis argues that works of arts is the imitation of a real life (Abrams 1971). Thus, literature as a form of arts is tightly bound to the situation of the real life during the time the literary works was created. The situation of the world and the spirit of the age can serve as inspiration, setting and background of the story. Furthermore, it can act as a respond toward social and political issues during that era.

Industrial revolution has significantly changed the face of England. This all began by the invention of steam engine by James Watt in 1760s (Widowson 2004). In a short time, most of manual works were replaced by the use of technology. The society has transformed from agricultural into industrial. It marked the transition from traditional world into modern world. Positively, the development of technology and the economic growth of the country has made England a leading country and hold an important role in the world. On the contrary, the industrialization created many negative impacts as well. E.A. Wringley (1931) states that industrial revolution is like a Pandora Jar. Once it is opened, there comes problem which is not expected before. Industrial revolution has caused many problems i.e. pollution from the factory that damage the environment, the gap of social class, the escalation of slum area in big cities, the increasing number of criminality, and other social problems which was caused by urbanization.

The situation of England which was caused by industrial revolution above has obtained numerous responses from the society. Literary writers responded the situation through literary work. Thus, during the eighteenth century literature has grown massively. The effect of industrial revolution has brought a new spirit to the age. There are several distinctive changes between the works during this era and the era before. The major changes of the literary work of this era are in themes and language.

II. Discussion

A. Changes in Themes

Literary works in the 17th century emphasize on the moral values, politics, religion, and individual experience. Those themes are reflected from the works such as Paradise Lost by John Milton, Poor Richard Almanack by Benjamin Franklin, and The Adventure of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. However, as industrial revolution emerged in England, the themes of the literary works are varied. The major themes are social issues, nature, technology, and imagination.

Literary writers of this era mostly concerned about the social issues which rise as the impact of industrialization and urbanization. Industrial revolution has made thousands of people moved from village to big cities to work in factories. It created a new social class, the working class. They had to worked in a long hours with low wage. The employers also hired woman and child labors to run their business which can be paid under the minimum wage of male worker. The working class people lived in a poor condition of slum which scattered everywhere in the cities. To respond to this condition, William Blake wrote a poem entitled The Chimney Sweepers which portrays the misery of a child labor. Furthermore, Charles Dickens who had a big concern on the social issues criticized the situation through his novel, Hard Time. The novel tells about the poverty and the harsh life of the working class. Similarly, the novel by Rebecca Harding Davis entitled Life in the Iron Mills speaks about the same issue.

The other common theme during this era is nature. Industrial revolution transformed the environment significantly. Small towns developed into big cities; pollution from factories contaminated the land, air, and water; railroad lines, viaducts, and canals appeared in the countryside. The beauty of the nature was destroyed by mechanical devices. People were longing for the scenic atmosphere of the nature. They appreciated nature more. Hence, the writers brought back the beauty of the nature into their works. This natural setting can be seen in Wuthering Heights by Jane Eyre and poems by William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Lord Byron.

Another theme of the literary works during era is technology. The invention of new technology has inspired writers to write imaginative possibility of the use of science and machine in life. Jules Verne wrote The Time Machine, exploring the possibility of human being travel through time. With the same spirit, Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein, a novel which depicts a possibility that man can be created by science.

B. Changes in Language

Literary works before eighteenth century were considered as divine works of arts. Most of the works were written by the aristocracy. The popular form was poetry; therefore, the structure, the use of metaphor, rhyme, rhythm, meter, and the word choice were important. In the seventeenth century, there was a literary stream which is called metaphysic. The metaphysical writers used high metaphor, symbolism, and difficult words which make the works are difficult to understand. The metaphysical language which was used depicts the quality of the literary works as literary work was seen as divine work of arts.

On the contrary, in the eighteenth century during the industrial revolution, literary works was seen as the voice of common people. Literary works were used as media to express thought and feeling toward what happened in the society during the industrial revolution era. In line with the theme of the works which portrayed social issues of common people, the language used in the works is vernacular language. Vernacular language is the language which is used by ordinary people. It usually is informal. Thus, to represent the voice of common people and to be understood by people in general, the literary works were written mostly in vernacular language. Besides, the literary works during this era were dominated by prose. The writers did not pay attention on structure and musical device of the works as much as the works of the previous era. They concerned more on the use of language which represent the emotion. The uses of vernacular language and unstructured form have defined the language of literary works in the industrial revolution era.

III. Conclusion

Industrial Revolution has significant influence on the themes and language of literary works in the eighteenth century. The growing cities, the enhancement of technology, and the effects of the industrialization changed the direction of the literary work. In the industrial revolution, writers used literature as a mean of criticism. Thus, the themes were mainly about social issues, nature, and technology. Furthermore, as the works were written by common people, dedicated to common people, and about common people; the language used in the literary works is mostly vernacular language and do not put much emphasis on structure and musical devices.


Abrams, M.H. (1971) The Mirror and the Lamps: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Alexander, Michael. (2000) A History of English Literature. London: MacMillan Press Ltd.

Stein, Richard L. (1987) Victoria’s Year. New York: Oxford University Press.

Widowson, Peter. (2004) The Palgrave Guide to English Literature and its Contexts. New York: Palgrave McMillian.

Wringley, E.A. (1931) Energy and the English Industrial Revolution. New York: Cambridge University Press.