Shirley was published in 1849, one year after the defeat of Chartism; and yet, though the novel is much preoccupied with class-conflict, it is backdated to the Luddite events of 1812. It is worth enquiring why this should be so. The West Riding of the 1840s was an intensive focus of Chartist agitation: Leeds was second only to Manchester as a centre of radical insurgency, and produced the most influential of all Chartist organs, the Northern Star. During the Plug strikes of 1842 some six thousand workers brought mills in the villages around Leeds to a standstill; five years later, severe economic depression, high unemployment and soaring food-prices generated a significant Chartist revival. In 1848 West Riding workers were arming and drilling; two thousand of them clashed in that year at Bradford with an equivalent number of soldiers and police.1 Yet Shirley chooses to ignore contemporary conditions, imaginatively translating them to an earlier phase of the Yorkshire class-struggle, negotiating its feelings in relation to the past rather than the present.
KeywordsFurnace Depression Europe Income Assure
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