Tess of the D’Urbevilles – social context

Britain has quickly developed into an industrialised nation from 1750 to 1900. Factors which contributed to this chance include the massive increase in mechanisation. Inventions of new machines and methods of powering them encouraged the growth of industries. This includes the discovery of steam power. The rapid developments in machinery, thus significantly increased the demand for coal and agriculture which also improved.

The discovery of steam power was extremely important in the industrialisation in Britain. First invented in 1698, the steam engine has grown more powerful over time. By 1881 there were over 100,000 steam engines in Britain. The impact of the steam engines was enormous, and was heavily used in the following:

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* Mining- Steam engines were used as pumps in coal mines, so deeper mines were possible.

* Transport- Steam engines drove locomotives which transported fuel.

* Factories- Steam engines drove machines in factories which allowed mass production.

* Iron- Steam engines were used in the iron industry to manufacture iron, such as the steam hammer.

Thus, steam engines played a significant role in the industrialisation of Britain with the introduction and improvements in mining, iron manufacturing, transport, and factory mass production.

Throughout the period there was a continuous increase in the demand for coal, which was needed in the iron and steel industries. Iron and steel gradually replaced timber in building, machine- making and shipbuilding. Also, it is used as a domestic fuel in larger houses and in trains on the new railways.

Towards the end of the 19th Century, a series of new inventions and discoveries led to the formation of new industries. Some of these included chemical, electrical and the car industry. The physical power of the workman in these industries were replaced by machinery, and qualified workers who came out of college or universities. But employment of these trained workers and machines were costly, and as a result the new industrialists had to be one of the middle or upper classes for loans to start a business. Furthermore, it led to the development of joint- stock companies.

Agriculture was one of the main forms of industry. In 1750 more than 70% of people farmed the land. Most were subsistent farmers who just grew enough to feed themselves. The lower class families relied on the job as farmers to earn food and money. Whole families worked together, ploughing, sowing, weeding and harvesting crops. The new inventions and machinery also had an impact on agriculture. Man power to plough was gradually replaced by the machines.

The development in technology showed to be a great advantage for the farmers, but it led to people losing their jobs.

Thomas Hardy, was born into a time when there was a great industrial change. He witnessed the final stages of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, and during this context, was influenced by this social change as he wrote the ‘Tess of the D’urbevillies.’ It was also a time with lots of debates, as people were losing their jobs and were replaced by machines and skilled workers. Thus, the context in which Hardy wrote his book was a hard and difficult one as well.

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