Victorian Literature and Culture

Research Article

INTEMPERATE NARRATIVES: TORY TIPPLERS, LIBERAL ABSTAINERS, AND VICTORIAN BRITISH SOCIALIST FICTION

Deborah Mutcha1

a1 De Montfort University

Attitudes toward the consumption of alcohol by the British working class had begun to shift during the last twenty years of the nineteenth century, as the environment and working conditions were gradually recognised as being a major contributory factor in drunkenness. Friedrich Engels had raised the environmental issue in 1845 in The Conditions of the Working Class in England, arguing that cramped, uncomfortable living conditions and harsh working practices drove the worker to drink. Engels states of the worker, “His enfeebled frame, weakened by bad air and bad food, loudly demands some external stimulus; his social need can be gratified only in the public house, he has absolutely no other place where he can meet his friends. How can he be expected to resist the temptation?” (133). But the power of the temperance movement's focus on individual responsibility and self-help during the mid-nineteenth century meant Engels's focus was not widely accepted until the resurgence of socialism at the end of the century. By then resentment was rising within both the working class generally and the socialist movement against the imposition of abstinence, especially when the consumption of other classes remained steady. As Brian Harrison states, “it was now suspected that [the workers] were being hypocritically inculcated by self-interested capitalists,” (402) and British socialists were keen to promote this perspective.

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