Critical Analysis on George Gissing's Demos (1886)
The word 'Demos' is a word which defines people of a nation who are regarded as a political unit. The title of Gissing's text immediately strikes the reader with an idea of what the main topic of the text may consist of. This essay will focus on the ideas and theories that may be apparent to Karl Marx and T.S Elliot, both critics convey a distinct outlook to certain ideas which can be linked with this text. I will be aiming to analyse the text in view of my two chosen theorists, I will explore ideas that may be of concern to these two critics especially in relation to the development that took place in the eighteenth century. Both Marx and Elliot will allow me to broaden my understanding of this text and explain how their views can reveal a number of interpretations to Gissing's text 'Demos'.
Demos is a text which examines how the historical growth of democratic aspirations have been revealed in literature. The text was conceived as "a savage satire on the working classes aims and capacities". It begins by talking about Stanbury Hill and the factories, furnaces and shelters it consists of. This immediately depicts how social, economic and political change was occurring in the eighteenth century. Karl Marx was a theorist who tied his theoretical actions to the working class's struggle for freedom. Marx analysed capitalism by concentrating on the economy, he saw it as predictable that "the laws, the forms of the family, political institutions and belief systems had to conform to the basic requirements of the economy, that laws would protect property above all else." In eighteenth century England their was a very big distinction of wealth, with a very large distance between the wealthy and poor, powerful and powerless as well as the educated and uneducated. The text is in absence of anti socialist facts and conveys Gissing's own feelings and thoughts towards status and class; it can be seen as an exploitation of England's fear of socialist uprising.
Furthermore, Elliot seems to be another theorist whose ideas may be evident in Gissing's text. He felt that contemporary England was a weak country at the beginning and that the English had a possibility of associated sensibility. In Elliot's essay on the 'Metaphysical poets', we see how he lays out his understanding of history. He argued that poets such as Donne, Herbert and Marvell had a sense of sensibility. However he also argued that poets such as Milton, Dryden and Pope no longer consisted of sensibility. The idea of sensibility is an extremely significant concept Elliot discusses in his work, this idea may be apparent in Demos when Gissing brings into light the different owners of Wanley Manor. Elliot states that the writer should write with the knowledge of all generations, this could in fact indicate towards Gissing writing in terms of different class structures, he may be pointing out for Gissing to write from the perspectives of the upper and lower class, he would need to write in response to the present and in experience to the past. The high class are conveyed in the second paragraph very vaguely; however a sense of sensibility can be felt through the way in which Gissing describes certain situations and the way they create a certain feeling through the atmosphere. For example, when there would be a new owner to Wanley Manor and the way, "Wanley would have mourned their departure". The diction Gissing decides to use such as 'mourn' brings a sense of sentiment to the atmosphere, at the same time the readers are aware of the impact the change of owners is having on the place. Elliot did not like the Romantics in the eighteenth century, he felt they were too individualistic therefore made it clear that secularization and modernization was the reason of change. Modernization is a key issue and a reason of sensibility, Secularization on the other hand may be a concept that Gissing perhaps conveys by speaking of the upper class, land ownership and wealthy people in the Wanley society. Land ownership in the eighteenth century was a very significant subject matter that dominated the period. At the beginning of this period those who owned large estates were not only wealthy, but they constituted the governing classes.
The fact that Gissing presents us with a very detailed description of the landscape in the first paragraph allows readers to be aware and take into account the idea of the industrial revolution. "...its walls are blackened with the fume of collieries and shaken by the strain of mighty engines". The first paragraph is such a descriptive and informative part of the text; it almost allows the reader to feel as though they are part of the society which is being presented. The detail allows ideas of industrialization and manufacturing to come into perspective; it seems to be a profound effect Gissing tries to use in order to show the effect of the socio-economic and cultural condition in England. Marxism began essentially as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution. According to Karl Marx, industrialization polarized society into land owners, and the working class who executed the labour. He often suggested that, "...production relation was closely associated with ownership or property." Marx viewed industrialization as a process that was a reasonable development of disputing economic approaches; he felt it was necessary for the full development of capitalism, something he saw as an indispensable sign leading to the development of socialism and ultimately communism.
The Romantic Movement stressed on the importance of nature in contrast to monstrous machines and factories. Demos is a text that distinguishes the difference between various places, it speaks of what the places consist of highly concentrating on the surroundings and landscapes. Belwick is described as having, "...one hundred and fifty fire-vomiting blast-furnaces". The 'fire-vomiting' depicts a clear picture of what Gissing perhaps tries to do within his writing; he strives to create an image of dispute between the different places and its people. When Wanley Manor is bought and owned by a Belwick iron master, Gissing describes Mrs. Eldon and her boys as being, "ousted by a name which no one knew, a name connected only with blast furnaces". The fact that Mr. Mutimer would have "made a distance fall in the tone of Waley society" illustrates the class difference and secularization that Elliot brings forth in his ideas.
In conclusion, both Marx and Elliot's theories and ideas relate to Gissing's text in a number of ways. It is clear to see both theorists' ideas link together through their views of industrialization and the Romantic Movement. Property and land ownership is a dictating issue in the text and is clearly shown to be a dominating factor in the eighteenth century. Marx' ideas on capitalism, socialism, economy and class structures are evident along with Elliot's ideas on the Romantic Movement, modernization and secularization. Gissing's text Demos is a text that allows readers to see the change that England went through in the eighteenth century, it is a great focus on detail which shows why these ideas by Marx and Elliot may come into light in this text. Gissing seems to be in search of methods which he can use in order to present his ideas clearly, it is obvious to see how he occasionally uses historical factors of the period to convey a sense of realism in the text. The deconstructive subtitle of this text, "A story of English socialism", is a creative yet simple piece of factuality. It is interesting to identify how Gissing illustrates how easily influenced the reconstruction of history can be.