The nineteenth (19th) century was a period of great change and accompanying social unrest in the British Isles. Most outstanding among the changes was the industrial revolution. As everything in life, it brought good, but it also brought evil. The industrial revolution combined with the expansion of the British Empire made the United Kingdom, the richest and most powerful country in the world. Some of the islanders became unbelievably wealthy, but others, unfortunately, became unbelievably poor. Writers from this historical period cognizant of the human suffering, became social critics of what was taking place in England, of how the rich and powerful became more oppressive than before and how the very poor, were evenly more oppressed.
Among these writers were Charles Dickens and George Eliot. In his novel, Felix Halt the Radical, Eliot (nee Mary Anne Evans) describes graphically the conflict and battle between these two groups.
In the novel, Eliot portrayed British society as having two types of people, the oppressors, who were the landowners who had the ability to vote and serve in government and then there the oppressed, who are the back breaking workers.
The factory workers and miners (the oppressed) were denied basic human rights and their opinion and beliefs were discarded as being useless. These workers wanted change and reform, however they did not speak out against their masters or government because of fear of retaliation by the oppressors, of punishment and also because of the lack of leadership skill to organize a revolt. The leadership that was needed was that of Harold Transome, a radical, and of his political agents that began preaching the need for change and for equality among the workers.
Traditionally, two main political parties existed in Great Britain, the Whigs and Tories, which forced society to choose what side would represent them. The split in society caused conflict in which people would only associate with those individuals who supported the same party. Adding to these conflicts, political candidates gave false hopes and promises in order to sway the opinion of people. Nonetheless a rise of uncertainty for the two parties began when Harold Transome returned home and brought with him enough wealth to gain the support needed to back up his political movement. Transome had made his fortune trading in the Far East of the empire. Despite his vast fortune there was one vast obstacle in Transom’s plan to rebuild his estate and build a political career, which was that he wasn’t the actual heir to his family’s estate. Long ago, the principal of the estate was sold off to the Baycliff family. Legally the estate belonged to Tommy Transome, an illiterate peasant who had been paid off to keep quiet. If anything were to happen to Tommy Transome, the rights to the estate would pass to any existing heir of the Baycliff family.
Harold Transome the lord of the Transome estate was a strong handsome man who left home to find his fortune in the Middle East in trade. He worked in banking in Smyrna, currently Izmir, a city in western Turkey. He returned to England when he had a sizable sum which he would use to rebuild his estate and support his political actions. Harold envisioned change, a change for the good of the workers. He disliked the Whigs and Tories because they represented everything old and unmodern. Being a radical meant new, improvement, change and modernization. He had modern opinions and ideas to change the outcome of society, however he still believed that women were silly creatures who did not have any ability nor right to discuss or work with what he considered “men’s work,” such as politics and running estates.
Mr. Johnson, one of Transome’s agents was a charismatic person with a strong passionate voice and convincing manner, with which he was able to rile up the workers. He claimed that their support of the radical movement would improve their lives. According to Mr. Johnson, “this country will rise to the tip-top of everything, and there isn’t a man in it but what shall his joint in the pot, and his spare money jingling in his pocket, if we only exert ourselves to send the right men to Parliament – men who will speak up for the collier, and stone cutter, and the navy, and will stand no nonsense” (p. 114). Harold Transome was the man for this job. He could put extra money in the worker’s pocket and alter the political arena. In return for a chance of a better life, Mr. Johnson wanted the workers to show their support for Harold Transome and the radical movement. He also demanded that the working men united themselves and give their “hands and voices for the right man,” and when you shout for Transome, remember you shout for more wages, and more of your rights, and you shoot to get rid of rats and sprats and such animals, who are the tools the rich make use of to squeeze the blood out of the poor people,” (p. 117).
If left to themselves, these workers would have never conceived the idea to rally against their oppressors. A strong influence was needed, a catalytic agent, in order to instill in them the idea that change was needed and rising against the leaders of society their oppressors would bring about the best results. The outcome of Mr. Johnson’s speech resulted in a very short-lived revolt with much chaos. The day of the election saw upset drunken workers who wanted the blood of those who put them in their sorry state. Their demonstration consisted initially of their anger by throwing vegetables at the people eligible to vote and at store windows (p. 264). The people in the mob, however, grew even more hostile. The mob decided to inflict some pain on Spratt whom was a Sproxton man who did not support the radical movement Spratt was found in the Seven Stars, a well known establishment known for supporting the Troy political side. They invaded the inn in which he was staying and dragged him out into the streets kicking and screaming. The mob taunted him in order to see how much they could frighten him before they really hurt him. They continued their rampage until thy reached the town’s center (Treby Manor) where they invaded the manor and proceeded to destroy whatever they could. The mob was destructive and out of control that the military was called in to put a stop to them. As a result of such rash actions by the mob, three people died, many of innocent people were wounded and there were damages to property and businesses, (p 281). Tragically, one of the men who died was Tommy Transome, which means that the estate would pass to Esther Baycliff, legal heir to the Transome estate.
During all this chaos, there was only one person who remain calm and collected and who tried to swayed the mob in another direction. Felix Holt, was a watch repairer by trade, but a fighter for equality and the rights of man. Mr. Holt knew that he would be unable to stop the mob so his mission was to divert them in a direction where no one would be hurt nor injured. He did succeed in some aspects. Holt realized that the mob was not going to listen to reason so he decided to pretend to be a part of the mob in order to manipulate them and hold them down until reinforcement arrived. He was able to get the crowd to forget about Spratt, however, he wasn’t able to deflect them from Treby Manor. For his efforts to help, Holt was shot in the shoulder and sent to jail for manslaughter, assault and rioting, (p. 270).
I believe that the fact that the author, George Eliot is a woman is a significant factor to this novel. Eliot clearly shows that during this time that women were not considered important in the eyes of men. Their main duty was to produce an heir. However, the women during this time did have capable minds with their own thoughts and ideas, for example, Mrs. Transome, Harold’s mother. She was able to run the estate in the absence of her son but when he returned, he treated her as an invalid. Women are forced by society to depend on men, as it was the case for Mrs. Holt, Felix’s mother. Felix Holt would not allow his mother to sell her homemade remedies for illnesses but she has no one to depend on when he is thrown into prison. Eliot depicts a life of unhappiness and misery for the most women in this novel. Mrs. Transome is a woman suffering with anguish and pure hatred for her son that leaves her to be a bitter woman.
As I was reading this novel, I was intrigued to find out that George Eliot was a woman because it answered many my questions. In my opinion, the novel was a very descriptive one. It emphasized on the power and strength of males within society and how their “machismo” behavior effects the outcome of how society behaves. As an outsider looking into a complex world, I am able to see things clearly. It is males within the society who are dangerous because they are the ones who strive for power and success and they also conjure movements that may have negative impact. Harold Transome’s problem was that he was trying to modernize and trying to solve problems for just part of the puzzle. He failed to take into account of the whole puzzle. Harold did not think before acted and he did not take the advise of his mother who foresaw the troubles that his movement would bring.
In a way, I believe that Eliot is trying to show the reader that society would be extremely different if it was women who held control of it and dominant over the males. The world would be quite different if women were in charge because women have a more of tendencies to express their emotions and talk things out. In addition, they also have the tendencies to look beyond and find the root of the problem. As Eliot describes the scene to the reader and the beavers of people at different stages of society, there is a hint of romance in all this. The author disguises herself behind a masculine name but her identity is revealed by the chance of her characters finding “true love” and “happily ever after”. Esther’s dream was to be rich, to have a position and a title and she was granted he r dreams. She had everything she thought she wanted, however, she did not have Felix Holt, her true love. Felix was sentence to four years in prison for his alleged crimes during the elections. Esther decided to give up everything she ever wanted and pass the estate into the hands of Harold in order to wait for Felix in lifestyle that she found comfort, happiness and love.
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