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Victorian Literature and Culture (2007), 35, 4156. Printed in the United States of America.

Copyright C 2007 Cambridge University Press. 1060-1503/07 $9.50


By Jonathan V. Farina

Here, we had better stop, though we have not told half that might be related on the subject of buttons. It is wonderful, is it not? That on that small pivot turns the fortune of such multitudes of men, women, and children, in so many parts of the world; that such industry; and so many ne faculties, should be brought out and exercised by so small a thing as the Button. What There Is in a Button, Harriet Martineau (1852)

THERE IS A MYSTERY in most houses of business, writes Harriet Martineau in Time and the Hour (559), one in a series of factory-tourism1 articles she composed for Household Words in the early 1850s. But Martineau does not confess how she puts much of that mystery into the houses of business that she describes. With Charles Dickens, Henry Morley, Mary Louisa Boyle, George Dodd, Mark Lemon, and other Household Words journalists, Martineau creates mystery in manufactories by characterizing them as if they and their products were literary characters. She and the other journalists promote the nascent factory system by representing homogenous commodities as individuals and factories as marvelous agents of individuation. They exploit the paradox that the most stereotypical commodity can be represented as a unique individual (and a means for creating individuality through consumption), and thus they transform the machinery of typicality into machinery of individuality and moral cultivation. Whereas opponents of the factory system like Thomas Carlyle in Signs of the Times (1829) and James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth in The Moral and Physical Conditions of the Working Classes in Manchester (1832) argued that it manufactured monotony, homogeneity, and immorality, and also erased human spirituality and character in everything and everyone implicated in it; Martineaus articles suggest that like the novel the factory system enriched the individuality of its operatives, consumers, and guests. Even as they purport to demystify those houses of business, then, Martineau and her colleagues mystify it with the inaccessible, private, mysterious, and moral character that ctional characters exhibit. This characterization and mystication of the factory system encouraged readers to fetishize industrial processes and products, and perhaps it even fed Marxs then-developing notion of commodity fetishism. I use fetish in two senses here, because Martineaus articles mark a transition from one 41



to the other. The factories and products of the articles are fetishes insofar as they are objects which she endows with surplus meaning and power: they seem to have inaccessible narrative potential and moral value that allegedly exceed Martineaus descriptive capacity. Martineaus factory system also promotes what we can recognize as Marxian commodity fetishism insofar as it replaces people, or characters, as a source of moral value and interiority. Readers are encouraged to join Martineau in a sort of conversation with and conversion into factories. Thus the factory system complements the novel as an agent of moral cultivation and individuality. Factory production was not yet the predominant mode of manufacture in early 1852 when Martineau was writing Time and the Hour.2 As Maxine Berg explains, the spread of factories was a complex and uneven process; large parts of the country and many sectors of the economy were changing very slowly, and even in the most rapidly transforming areas there were many surviving legacies (Machinery Question 29). Ironically, the very novelty of factory production might have led a nineteenth-century Briton to think otherwise, however, as it was widely represented in all sorts of mediums. The early factory movement inspired the conception of new genres that explained, advocated, critiqued, and produced what would eventually become a factory system. Household Words factory-tourism articles were to some degree re-mystifying what might have become, through excess representation, a familiar topic. The new genres of the developing factory system included the popular histories and treatises by Owen, Babbage, and Ure, for example, who lauded the economic and moral effects of technology, mechanization, and factory labor. All of these writings are interpretative descriptions, for they imagine and inuence the system that they purport to describe (Poovey 5). By describing particular features or instantiations of factory production in terms of a factory movement and a factory system, these industrial texts enabled society to imagine a factory system as such. Industrial development also generated periodical narratives like Martineaus, which were intended to reveal the secret workings of the new and contested factory system. These narratives were not an entirely new genre. They developed from the eighteenth-century biographies and autobiographies of things which were, in the words of Jonathan Lamb, known variously as it-narratives, object-tales, and novels of circulation (193). Household Words factory-tourism articles detail the production of mass-produced common goods: everyday commodities such as paper, needles, nails, screws, shawls, watches, and glass. But the articles infuse these common goods with uncommon effects that Martineau describes in terms of mystery and wonder. This mystery and wonder are what the articles paradoxically profess to demystify. The mystery Martineau implies in Time and the Hour is the type of secret germane to business practice (the secret ingredient, recipe, or method that makes a product protable) and the mystery inherent in factory operations (because they were novel and behind closed doors). Working with the genre of object-tales, Martineau sustains and augments this mystery by animating factories and factory products with interiority. For her, the objects of the factory system have narrative potential (Lamb 216), a mysterious and inaccessible story to tell, and thus they seem to have the interiority that ctional characters represent. Martineau provokes wonder because she emphasizes her own incapacity to fully articulate and explain the factories that she describes. She always leaves something unexplained and unexplainable beneath the surfaces and hidden in the res and machines of the factory system. I describe this suggested but withheld, or untold, something as a secret, because it is both hidden and revealed. The mysterious, wonder-provoking secrets which

Characterizing the Factory System


Martineau creates in the factory system function like the open secrets of D. A. Millers Secret Subjects, Open Secrets. Martineaus articles imply that deep subjectivity is produced in the factory by leaving aspects of factory work and factory realities secret. Consider the epigraph to this essay, where Martineau insists Here, we had better stop, though we have not told half that might be related on the subject of buttons (112). She suggests and withholds, and in withholding she allows readers to imagine factory subjectivity, or factory interiority. Martineau employs several other methods to characterize both to describe and to turn into a character, an implied subjectivity the factory system. In some articles the narrators converse with factory-produced commodities; they talk and listen to objects that disclose private stories. The narrators describe the products as characters by investing them with human histories, features, and, in some instances, secret subjectivity or interiority. In other articles, the narrators assume identity as the products, not simply identifying with them like readers with a novels protagonist but becoming them and being processed by the factory. These factory tourism articles describe the factory system as a social network of individuals, not a dehumanizing network of depthless, homogenous objects. A PAPER-MILL, THE FIRST FACTORY-TOURISM ARTICLE to appear in Household Words, was published on Saturday, 31 August 1850. Written by Charles Dickens and Mark Lemon,3 it introduces many of the generic features that Martineau later employed in her commissioned articles, which began to appear in October 1851. Countering expectations created by critiques of the factory movement, Dickens and Lemon address the situation, history, sound, and cleanliness of the paper-mill. They recall strolling on a ne bright day through the pleasant green lanes with wild owers blowing in [the] Dartford hedges, larks singing, trees rustling, and bees humming by. They conduct their tour on a summer morning when all living creatures were enjoying life. The paper-mill is in an altogether verdant setting, which is pleasantly surprising to the narrators, who used to associate Dartford with Gunpowder Mills, and formidable tin canisters, illustrated in copper-plate, with the outpourings of a generous cornucopia of dead game (529).4 The authors couple this lively summer scene with gossipy fragments of history. This particular paper-mill has not occupied the spot since the birth of England, but Time was, in the old Saxon days . . . there stood a Mill here, held in ferm by a Reve. In other words, from the beginning, Britons have naturally and rightly harnessed the river. Just as it fuelled the Chauceresque Reves mill, the river feeds the modern paper-mill, though now there are indeed books in the running brooks for they go to feed the Paper-Mill. Now the paper-mill consumes nature and culture as it recycles old knowledge and raw wood into new paper. Following the Reves mill, a nunnery and then a palace at which Queen Elizabeth allegedly vacationed during her sixteenth year occupied the spot; and her Royal Mistress, chaste and victorious Gloriana, granted Sir John Spielman license to build the rst paper-mill that supplanted this palace. There is a legend, the narrator adds:
that the same Sir John . . . did bring with him two young lime-trees then unknown in England which he set before his Dartford dwelling-house, and which did ourish exceedingly; so, that they fanned him with their shadows, when he lay asleep in the upper story, an ancient gentleman. (529)

Paper-mills on English rivers are nothing new: Queen Elizabeth sanctioned them and ancient gentlemen established and operated them. These municent gentlemen supplied England



with the shade-giving, sweet-smelling lindens under which Coleridge composed his This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison. Not all of the articles under discussion here place their factories in such hyperbolically pleasant and verdant settings, but nearly all of them do employ this type of history to legitimate industrial development in Britain as the natural progression of historical improvement from ancient civilizations to Britain. Many of the articles relate the history of a commodity by tracing its origins in the rustic ingenuity of ancient Rome, Greece, China, Egypt, or Britain such that the factory-produced commodities appear to be natural improvements upon historically necessary, traditional products. This trope of Anglicizing and historicizing industry was not a novel development of the Household Words journalists: Edward Bainess History of the Cotton Manufacture in Great Britain (1835), for example, portrays modern cotton manufacture as the appropriate British improvement upon less civilized techniques and shows how other proponents of the factory system articulated industrial development as the natural culmination of British genius. The narrator of A Paper-Mill hears the noise of the Steam Engine, murmuring and throbbing like a mighty giant, labouring hard, before seeing it white and clean without, and radiant in the sun, with the sweet clear river tumbling merrily down to kiss it, and help in the work it does. The journalists hear the hard work of a productive and peaceful leviathan that would have unbraced all the Saxon bows and shaken all the heads off Temple Bar, ever lifted to those heights from the always butchering, always craving, never sufcientlyto-be-regretted, brave old English Block (529). The sound of the steam engine, Dickens and Lemon suggest, counters violence with its awe-inspiring pulse, which might expunge or preclude the murder that other English institutions produced. The literal aura of the machine is disciplinary and harmonious. Interpreting the most frightening elements of factories as disciplinary agents was common in Household Words: in Plate Glass, for another example, res and gures are the agents of civilisation, and not of deadly persecution and black murder (Dickens and Wills 435). The journalists view the factory system as a curative for many other social anxieties. Dickens and Lemon observe a white and clean mill, not a lthy, sooty, and smoky factory. The facility produces Paper! White, pure, spick and span new paper, with that fresh smell which takes us back to school and school-books (52930). The mill processes both raw materials and its human operatives and inhabitants. Typical accounts of processing raw materials into nished products from the pod to the piece (Gray 136) in factories relate the correlative physical and moral degradation of factory employees: the cost of the renement of raw materials into nished products is typically the health and soul exacted from the factory workers. Critics writing against the factory system, like Carlyle and later Ruskin, argued that factorization was implicated in a sweeping process of cultural homogenization and degradation. The factory systems specialized labor, mechanization, disciplined hours, standardization of homogenous empty time, and mass-produced commodities all devalued the idiosyncratic, spiritually-rich individual. But proponents of the factory system did not call attention to the degrading effects of ill-run factories on children and other operatives unless they were contrasting ill-run factories with more progressive ones. These authors stressed the value added to workers by municent, patriarchal factory owners who disciplined, educated, and otherwise improved employees through various social programs and technologies of governance (mandatory church attendance, free schooling, regular hours, enforced temperance, and standards of hygiene, for example). Standing at the gates of various factories, some factory advocates

Characterizing the Factory System


noted how workers leaving the factory in multitudes regained their individuality when they were dispersed into thousands of different consumers with different needs, tastes, and private lives (Gray 13637). IN THE EARLY HOUSEHOLD WORDS ARTICLES, the factory system does not exact a price on individuals: it renes the individuals involved by and in it. Martineau essayed to make the factory system itself a source of sweetness and light, a mass-producer of individuality, humanity, and morality and the means by which workers could culture themselves. By personifying factory objects and by affecting to become factory objects as she toured, Martineau suggested that deep subjectivity was the predominant product of the factory system. Talking to the commodity, a generic feature Marx later used in Capital (1867), was one way the Household Words articles invested factory products with subjectivity. Conversation with objects was a popular trope in eighteenth-century narratives about bank notes, coins, buttons, and other things which exchanged hands and traveled the world, and it was also a standard trope for Household Words. In My Mahogany Friend, for instance, Dickens and Mary Louisa Boyle write, I FANCY the habit I have contracted of conversing with what we commonly call inanimate objects, or at least, of listening to their long stories and unlimited condences (which they are much given to repose in me), arises, in some measure, from the solitary life I lead (558). Similarly, in The Catalogues Account of Itself, in which the celebrated Catalogue of the Great Exhibition discloses its parentage and life, Henry Morley writes:
You are the Public. I intend to have some private talk with you, and pour into your ear the story of my early life . . . . In fact, I mean to ow out now into a tide of gossip; to pour into your ear, condentially, a stream of information on the subject of my early life, and to unbend; if I may say so, to un-catalogue myself; to loosen myself from the accustomed bondage by which I am compelled to travel only on a certain path. (519)

These examples from Household Words show how conversation with an animated inanimate object afforded journalists private, secret, and condential information. Such conversations with animated objects that disclose secret subjectivities implicitly encouraged readers to cultivate their own subjectivity through their relationships with factory objects. The condential relationship Morley and the Catalogue share with their readers creates sympathy between readers and objects, as though the objects were characters. Conversations with the objects of the factory system suggest potential personal and social relationships with factoryproduced commodities. One could choose to read this provocation of readerly sympathy with objects as an active and pejorative provocation of Marxian commodity fetishism, as an active and pejorative effacement of people by machinery and products. But this reading is only enabled by writers like Martineau and writings like the factory-tourism articles that encourage readers to appreciate the vast web of human thought and labor hidden in factory products and processes. In other words, for their contradictory claims for and against capitalism and factory production, Martineau and Marx both rely on the factory objects capacity for characterization, the objects capacity to represent human relationships. From Umbrellas where George Dodd chronicles the one hundred and sixty-three successive operations performed in the manufacture of umbrellas of the commonest kind



(203) to Kendal Weavers and Weaving where Martineau writes, There is something almost painful in seeing, by how gradual and laborious process every hairs-breadth of the carpets we tread upon so carelessly, is made (189), Household Words factory-tourism articles valorize quotidian products for the complex technological achievement and human effort they embody. These accounts disclose the vast imperial and commercial network of physical labor, exchange, and communication embodied in each common object, making the factory system and technology awesome, independent of the individuals involved. But the narratives also invest the factories and their products with metaphysical secrets that make them characters, which are awesome for their inexpressible depth. In Shawls, for example, Martineau discusses owers, the skillfully made and costly bundles of weaving-strings and netting which regulate the pattern of a shawl: We may regard each as the soul or spirit of the shawl, she writes, not creating its material, but animating it with character, personality, and beauty (554). Neither ascribing beauty to an article of clothing nor making the shawl an object with character and personality was new, but the context of these rhetorical strategies was. In What There Is in a Button, Martineau writes, Now, one cannot enter a manufactory, or pass along the streets of this wonderful town [Birmingham], without being impressed and gratied with the afuence of beauty, with good sense at the bottom of it, which everywhere abounds (106). Martineau does two important things here: she aestheticizes the industrial town that many others disparaged as a sea of smoke and smoke stacks, and she puns on impression. The subsequent paragraph details the amusing enough variety of dies with which the buttons are impressed. Referring to these dies, Martineau notes that we could ll pages with accounts of whom and what we saw there and lists celebrities, associations, and other characters that appear on the dies. The factory literally impresses character onto the buttons. A mechanical press makes the buttons whoms and whats, people and things. These buttons have character precisely insofar as they suggest individuality and variety through their homogenous surfaces. Here are profoundly individual dies from which thousands of homogenous copies are made. But Martineau does not speak of them as copies. Like the owers that animate the shawls and the people inventors, artisans, operatives behind the machines, the dies are a source of individual character in and on the buttons. The dies are not mass-produced commodities but hand-engraved and handcarved products of skilled craftsmen. By extension, then, Martineau links paradoxically the mechanized production of homogenous buttons to the discourse of individuality and handicraft championed by theorists like Ruskin, who abhorred mass production. The massproduced copy gives value to the hand-made original and vice versa. Tubal-Cain also includes a lengthy passage on the artistry and spirit invested in dies:
With these models is laid by a great wealth of steel dies. These are a large investment and a very uncertain property. An ordinary looking die may prove to be worth its weight in gold; where a pair which has cost fty guineas may not be required to give out as many copies. (194)

The language of investment is important here and throughout the articles under discussion because reading character is an act of speculation. Each die is uncertain property because its worth depends on the sales of its copies, not on its own beauty or cost of production. As with human subjects or the characters of David Coppereld in D. A. Millers argument, the dies exteriors cannot disclose their potential worth. The value of all the things Martineau registers

Characterizing the Factory System


in factories is uncertain, that is, its potential value may prove to be worth its weight but never has any content. The disclosure of content would destroy the sense of value, because the value is all in the potential. The lack of content to this potential, mystery, or secret is not problematic because the factory system is most subjective, most like a character with hidden innerness, in Millers words, when Martineau can continue to afrm [its] subjectivity as a form even where it no longer has a content of its own (204). To track and describe the processing of certain products, the factory tourists sometimes become raw materials and track their own manufacture into commodities. Consider once again Dickens and Lemons account of the paper-mill, wherein arrive bales of dusty rags, native and foreign, of every colour and every kind (530). Rags connotes the tattered, worn, irregular scraps of old clothing cast off by all sorts of people. The author registers dozens of these from the coarse blouse of the Flemish labourer to the Cardinals hat and the ploughmans nightcap which are connected to the vocation of their old wearers. These all dwindle down to this, and bring their littleness or greatness in fractional portions here (530). Thus the raw material for paper is the exfoliated dust, the discarded and worn exteriors of many wearers. These rags were not nancially worthless, for they were sold to places like the paper-mill, and rags was, as the OED notes, another term for paper money. But they are worthless insofar as they could no longer help their wearers afrm subjectivity or character. Cast from their wearers, the rags are only worn symbols of occupations and exchange value. They must be re-infused with subjective potential and human character. The Truth of A Paper-Mill a manifestation of the factorys moral agency elevates the rags and strips away their worn connotations (530). The narrator then assumes the character of the rags: I am to go, as the rags go, regularly and systematically through the Mill. I am to suppose myself a bale of rags. I am rags. Thus the narrator enters the Mill as an old discarded shell an empty exterior. The paper-mill, like the Mill of the childs story that ground old people young (529), shreds, boils, educates, and renes this worthless rag exteriority in a process of rejuvenation and reinvigoration that restores humanity and worth to the rags. Freed from some of [the narrators] grosser nature, the rag-narrator and other rags are sent to the Boiling-Room, a very clean place, where they are coddled by much boiling, like a washerwomans ngers. In this kitchen, the narrator says, he is pressed, and squeezed, and jammed, a dozen feet deep . . . into my own particular cauldron; where I simmer, boil, and stew, a long, long time. Thus cooked he becomes a dense, tight mass, cut out in pieces like so much clay very clean faint as to my colour greatly puried and gradually becoming quite ethereal (530). Nothing in the mash of rags can claim to be in its particular cauldron; the original rags are homogenized into grey slurry. Yet, by being a rag among the others, the narrator maintains a sense of individuality and identity in this homogeneity. This is a special mode of personication through identication by which the author actually becomes the object in order to endow it with distinct identity, individuality, and subjectivity. This relationship preserves individuality in the end products. Once the narrator asserts I am rags, rags are no longer mentioned until the end of the narrators metempsychosis; the rags become I, a particular, individual commodity and a speaking subject grateful to the clear fresh water for the good it has done me (531). Readers can recognize and identify with I in ways that they cannot with colorless gruel and blank paper. Various stages of cutting, slashing, grinding, and rolling later, the rags astounding transformation from a quite white . . . and very spiritual gruel into paper ready for work



is complete. The factory has transformed the diverse, worthless rags and narrator into clean, homogenous paper, which is spiritual and ready for thought. However homogenous, the paper has unknown and unlimited potential hidden within, and writers of all kinds will exercise this potential to express and distinguish their own interiority. The paper has a mighty Duty set forth in no Schedule of Excise, and . . . its names are love, forbearance, mercy, progress, scorn of the Hydra Cant with all its million heads (here the authors pun on excise taxes then debated in Parliament). Paper is the medium that will bring to some few minds, such fresh associations (531). Paper embodies future progress and future transactions of human importance. Indeed, the paper embodies the narrator himself and thus the capacity for narrative and emotional meaning where rags had only monetary value. The milling process recreates a secret: what the paper will come to serve is unknown, and, therefore, the paper is valuable as a subject with illimitable speculative potential. Where the post-Freudian individual is subject to the unconscious, the paper is subject to this hidden, potential voice of the writer. THE JOURNALISTS EXPRESS AWE at the signs of secret subjectivity in factory processes, and in doing so they establish the range of appropriate sentiments and reactions available to readers who contemplate the factory system. The factory tourists recognize packaged products in storehouses throughout England, ranged along the walls, like mummies all giving the impression of a secret life within. But a secret life, how different! (This particular exclamation is Richard Hornes response to a warehouse stuffed with identical packages of gunpowder, 464.) It is a representative example of the way these articles furnish homogenous, typied, interchangeable exteriors with secret, potent, individuated interiors. The articles emphasize that as much precision and care were necessary in the coarse interior parts of the work as in the outside nish (Martineau, Magic Troughs 115) and thus make factories and their products into suitable sources of wonder. Moreover, they afford readers a privileged position of knowledge and enable them to feel as though they have experienced a rare and wonderful experience to distinguish themselves accordingly as people intimate with the factory system and its mysterious culture. The factory becomes something like a novel insofar as it becomes a source for this private experience with the secrets of the factory. Like a novel, the factory becomes a cultural object which people could read to develop their own interiority. Household Words creates sympathy between reader and character, which allows for the interior development of novel readers by making the objects of the factory system characters that metonymically represent society. Perhaps the charm is in the material, Martineau speculates before recounting a diver collecting a broad shell from the bottom of the Indian seas in What There Is in a Button. This collecting involves a dangerous, seething and aching, roaring and frame-convulsing dive haunted by the fear of sharks, and the dread spectacle of wriggling and shooting shes, and who knows what other sights. To acquire shells, what toils and pains, she exclaims, what hopes and fears, what enterprises and calculations have been undertaken and undergone (110)! Martineau effaces the subjectivity of the diver, who is characterized less than the marine creatures, so that the buttons made of shells seem more meaningful, mysterious, and worthy than the individual operatives involved in their production. Martineau transfers the divers subjectivity to the commodity, taking human expression and interiority and giving it to the commodity. The commodity embodies here the passions of its producers and the nancial and physical risk,

Characterizing the Factory System


as well as the scientic calculation involved in bringing it to market. In these accounts, the factory product is a synecdoche for the entire empire-wide and subject-deep factory system. The factory system serves then as an alternate type of culture whereby the improvement of production processes improves society: the richer and more ingenious the factory process, the more rened and cultured the participants in that process. Characteristically, the most wonder-provoking, interesting and beautiful accounts of these commodities come from men employed elsewhere or from Martineaus wonder at the exquisite machinery (109) of the factory, which she describes as a truly wonderful and beautiful apparatus [whose] operation cannot well be described to those who have not seen it (108). Like round literary characters, Martineaus factories, machines, and commodities exceed representation. Martineau can only disclose so much about the properties that provoke wonder before she displaces their source or resorts to uninformative exclamations of amazement. In this way, her articles maintain the factory systems secret and its ability to elicit wonder; for, however many descriptions we have of the marvelous work and passion invested in the factory products, the true source of their wonder is always unutterable, indescribable, or otherwise undisclosed. The factory-tourism articles are always synecdochic; they always imply a greater whole that they cannot articulate. Martineau explains that the value of the un-worked material is not the source of a products worth. In Time and the Hour she visits the watch-making shops of Messrs. Rotherham: There is something serious, she observes, about the whole business. It is a serious thing that it is science and labour which gives its high value to a watch, and not the costliness of the material (556). She supports the workers, technology, and labor embedded in the commodity, but she also identies the serious combination both in the workers and in the materials which creates value and which is manifested in the nished form of the watch. Walking outside of the factory, Martineau meditates on the true and lasting relation and accord man has established between the jog of the wheels in his pocket-watch and the spinning of the planets in space (556); she notes the curious combination of physical machinery, cosmic movements, and human behavior. But, to receive the full impression of this curious relationship, Martineau continues:
we should go into the workshop where scores of men and boys are busy in making and arranging the materials, the hard, dead mineral materials, which are to give out something intangible, unutterable, as real as themselves, yet purely ideal in its connexion with us. That men by putting together brass and steel, and a jewel or two, and some engraved marks, should present to us, as in a mirror, the simultaneous doings of the stars in the sky, seems to raise the work-room into a place of contemplation or eloquent discourse. (556)

In this passage, Martineau herself seems to raise the factory into a high cultural medium that forges material and abstract bonds. Martineau acknowledges the complexities of the commodity, how it embodies or realizes an ideal or metaphysical relationship between not only humans and the cosmos and humans and the ideal of homogenous empty time, but also between human labor and the applied sciences and arts, which the factory signies. Representing the factory system in terms of abstract human ideals, the Household Words articles forge an ideal connexion between readers and the factory system. I have used factory product and commodity interchangeably, but Martineaus commodities are not just autonomous gures endowed with a life of their own, as Marx



later described them in Capital (165). Martineau encourages readers to consider all of the materials and interactions as well as the intellectual and physical labor that commodities embody, and the effect of such considerations is a fetishized relationship with the factory product. Martineaus articles teach readers to valorize commodities as embodiments of many abstract and physical labors and relations. The factory-made watch is a talisman (559) and not a reication that conceals its embedded abstractions. For Martineau, then, even simple commodities can communicate as much as works of art. Babbage had suggested this argument years earlier in The Economy of Manufactures:
The amount of patient thought, of repeated experiment, of happy exertion of genius, by which our manufactures have been created and carried to their present excellence, is scarcely to be imagined. If we look around the rooms we inhabit, or through those storehouses of every convenience, of every luxury that man can desire, which deck the crowded streets of our larger cities, we shall nd in the history of each article, of every fabric, a series of failures which have gradually led the way to excellence; and we shall notice, in the art of making even the most insignicant of them, processes calculated to excite our admiration. (4)

So the factory-tourism articles cultivated commodity fetishism by disclosing, or suggesting, the intricate histories of factory products while also endowing them with aesthetic mystery. In other words, for Household Words the factory system introduced a more subjective relationship to the commodity; it did not conceal or efface these relationships. THE FACTORY CULTIVATES individuality, artistry, and beauty. As Martineau observes in Flower Shows in a Birmingham Hot House, the renement of convenience as well as beauty enabled by the productivity of the factory system achieves a social leveling, such that all orders of society can afford some articles of beauty, and The truest beauty that which is natural ought to cost nothing: beauty of form ought to be had as cheap as ugliness (85). In Tubal-Cain, the factory is a privileged site of beauty; the commodity brass in this instance is most beautiful in the factory, before it is preserved and protected from the outside world with lacquer:
Ah! none but those who have seen it wrought can tell how beautiful it is, before it is spoiled with the varnish we are obliged to put on, to prevent its tarnishing! If its virgin tint could be preserved, it would be the most beautiful, perhaps, of all metals. (193)

Varnishing is just one more allegedly mysterious process through which Household Words invests factory manufactures with interiority and history. Like the aforementioned weaving owers, some factories have secret minds of their own. In Dickens and Lemons A Paper-Mill, for example, the rag narrator attributes a miracle to the planetary system of heated cylinders, the wonderful machine which had rendered him meaningful by processing him into paper. Where, he asks, is the subtle mind of this Leviathan lodged (530)? Like Hobbess Leviathan, the mill is a governing beast, a magical, subtle-minded, and autonomous gure that controls the social body. But Martineaus Leviathan cultivates individuals and idiosyncracies beneath the homogenous everyday surfaces of the social body. Observing the process by which needles come into being, Martineau notes the incomprehensible magnitude and multitude of interior spaces within the needle factory, each of which

Characterizing the Factory System


is lled with processes and products most perplexing to the imagination: [W]e gave up the attempt to comprehend what we saw. The room was surrounded by compartments, each of which was lled with similar packets. The effort to imagine their contents, when in use, was like undertaking to count the grains of a square yard of sea-beach. Yet this was only one room of one manufactory of one little town! (Needles 543). Like the paper that has so much unimaginable potential for future good and distinction, here are so many packets of needles, which will be working at the same time in unimaginable numbers. Filled with incomprehensible and unimaginable interiors, the factory is itself beyond comprehension, a labyrinth of unknown extent (Tubal-Cain 196). The interior spaces of the factory, though surveyed by the touring journalist, cannot be articulated or revealed. The excess interiority of the factories provokes wonder in readers, who ll these mysterious interiors as they would ll those of a round character. Encountering the unimaginable, incomprehensible, and vast operations and interiors of the factory system facilitates an acknowledgment of ones own illimitable interior.5 Encountering complexity in the factory complicates enriches individuals. The complexity of factory processes and machines is such that sometimes the factories are secrets unto themselves, as the modern subject is secret unto himself. The manager of the plate glass works, for example, is unable to tell Dickens and W. H. Wills the ingredients in his own glass. Its mixture with the other materials is secret even to us, Mr. Blake says. We give the man who possesses it a handsome salary for exercising his mystery. The inquisitive authors are not disappointed, for they are quite conscious that Romance invariably associates itself with mystery (Plate Glass 434). The factory is necessarily so mysterious that nobody working within it comprehends its innumerable processes and products. The managers inability to answer every question only increases the wonder the article elicits. The same is true in Morleys Pottery and Porcelain, where the secret of the enamel, a golden secret, is preserved in a fortress of a manufactory that operates under conditions of the utmost secrecy (34, 36). In these interpretive descriptions, the factory system keeps trade secrets not to ensure protability but to ensure the romance and mystery of the factory, to make the factory system appear as a subject and as a manufacturer of subjectivity rather than an agent of objectication. In Plate Glass, Dickens and Wills move on to a scene from an Oriental StoryBook . . . magically revealed to us, a room of women busily polishing glass (436). This fairy scene is soon, however, to disappear. Mr. Blake, the ingenious manager of the works, has invented an articial female hand, by means of which, in combination with peculiar machinery, glass smoothing can be done by steam (435). Here, as in other descriptions, the factory and its machines are extensions or articial representations of the human body. By some secret agency, the factory can achieve human results without human parts. The factory therefore represents the body instead of alienating it. The same cultural force that divided hands from the working bodies that supported them, here dissociates factory processes from the toiling operatives that facilitate them and lionizes the factory as an ideal human, a mysterious, ingenious, and productive subjectivity (see Freedgood, Fine Fingers 629 30). On these premises, Martineau writes in The Wonders of Nails and Screws, there is at work now some machinery which is shut up from prying eyes, by which the shank is picked up, wormed, and dropped, without being touched by human hands (141). And this anthropomorphic factory works for the benet of humans: the dead mechanism offers much to see, but it is much more to see vital comfort and beauty issuing from an intelligent daily industry, which works on behalf, not of vanity and wasteful pleasures, but of home



(14142). Operating the machine requires intelligence and a marriage between human and technology, which for Martineau is expressly not alienating, as Marx would later have it. The mysterious working of human and machine together confuses the boundary between human and machine, but for Martineau this fusion strengthens the home and produces beauty. The factory saves human hands from deleterious labor while producing goods of the same handmade quality and bringing comfort and beauty to the home. ANTHROPOMORPHIC AND DIGNIFIED, the machine carries a certain social distinction, which an alienated worker could not.
The machine . . . must be seen to be understood: for there is no giving an idea, by description, of the nicety with which the brass tongues rise to lift up the threads and to twist them; then throw them together, and rub them against the leather-covered shafts; which, instead of human palms, twist them in the opposite direction. In seeing this machine the old amazement recurs at the size, complication, and dignity of an instrument contrived for so simple a purpose. (Shawls 553)

In this passage the machine, like the human laborer, is exceptionally complex and dignied for its simple purposes, its simple and therefore innocuous and innocent tasks. The machine works with nicety, which is a gentlemanly trait characteristic also of the virtuous delicacy of handicraft. In his analysis of the discourse of the factory and the machine in the works of Charles Babbage and Andrew Ure, Andrew Zimmerman notes that they use the human as a model for the machine and the machine as a model for the human (14). The belief, he writes, that a machine can represent a human presupposes that humans are somehow already machinelike, or at least that there is a common denominator between human and machines, a means of circulation, so that they can be exchanged. This common denominator is the automaton ontology, the belief that each is a mechanical reproduction of an apparently nonmechanical being (16). For Ure, Zimmerman observes, The term Factory, in technology, designates the combined operation of many orders of work-people, adult and young, in tending with assiduous skill a system of productive machines continuously impelled by a central power . . . [Factory] in its strictest sense, involves the idea of a vast automaton, composed of various mechanical and intellectual organs (1314). The factorytourism articles exemplify the same parallel comparisons and substitutions of human and machine, machine and human the brass tongues, articial female hand, and human palms, for example. But the automaton machine is not just physically anthropomorphic. It exhibits nicety, dignity, a will-like central power, and intellectual organs. Thus Martineau and the others appropriate the value of handicraft from the direct mediation of hands, to the intellectual and spiritual mediation of hand-like machines machines which preserve hands physically (from toil) and metaphorically (in terms of the moral value of handicraft they exemplify). The excess, secret, indescribable features of the anthropomorphic factory system in Household Words constructions make it seem as though the factory system was production itself (Zimmerman 24) and not an alienated mode of production. In the 1850s when many Britons wanted to dene themselves as a manufacturing nation, production was as positive an ideal as culture with which to identify. Reading Household Words, these Britons could celebrate interaction with the factory system as others would celebrate the intellectual work

Characterizing the Factory System


of reading. Thus the characters of the factory system could hold some of the abstract moral value of literary characters. THE FACTORY-TOURISM ARTICLES WERE written in conversation with Babbages On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures (1832) and Ures Philosophy of Manufactures (1835),6 as well as Martineaus own Illustrations of Political Economy (1836), though they do not belong to the prolic genres of the techno-philosophic factory system or political economy treatise. The factory-tourism pieces belong also in the context of what Maxine Berg has called the Mechanics Institute Movement, which produced pamphlets, lectures, and other writings that reected the desires among middle-class ideologues to improve the understanding of the connections between the advances of technology and the doctrines of political economy (Machinery Question 146). The Mechanics Institute Movement was a collective effort to make knowledge of the factory system scientic, but it expressed itself with ctional tropes common to the Household Words articles which would follow. W. Hawkes Smith, a Birmingham co-operator and a strong inuence in the Mechanics Institute Movement, stressed that technology and mechanization had cultural value. In On the Tendency and Prospects of Mechanics Institutions, an article which appeared in an 1835 issue of the Analyst, Hawkes wrote:
When the steam engine was perfected, half the external distinctions of rank vanished;the new power rendering manufactured articles more accessible. But the effects of scientic advancement will not be branded by the cheapening of silks, calicos and hardwares. There is an intellectual machinery, a mental steam power at work, and still rising in its action which renders education proportionately as cheap and as attainable to the man of small means as his clothing and his domestic appointments. (qtd. in Berg, Machinery Question 148)

Hawkes refers to various educational improvements such as free schooling and factory town Sunday schools, which Martineau records in Needles but he implies that the spread and implementation of technology and the immersion of individuals in a technological environment are also educational, cultivating experiences. The sentiment is explicit in Martineaus exclamation, which I cite in my epigraph, that so many ne faculties, should be brought out and exercised by so small a thing as the Button (What There Is 112). Another example of the prevalent automaton ontology, Hawkess intellectual machinery implies that scientic advancement produces external and internal benets. Thus the steam engine generates the new power of rendering manufactured articles more accessible and the mental steam power that reforms society. Hawkes thereby transfers to the factory system the social benets that Coleridge and Arnold have attributed to reading and to culture. The factory-tourism articles promote the factory system as a subjective experience in both the form of the tourism article, which introduces readers to the secret histories of commodities and secret interiors of factories, and as a way of life committed to commodity and technology fetishization. Towards the second half of the nineteenth-century, merchants marketed subjective experiences as much as they did subjective / fetishized commodities. In Victorian Things, Asa Briggs cites Philip Wicksteeds marginalist economics in which the ultimately desired objects of choice were not commodities but subjective experiences of some kind (15). On the one hand, with its efciency and machinery the factory system produces more time and therefore more potential experience for the working subject. For



instance, the dignity of the weaving machine in Shawls resides not in the magnitude of the ofce, but in the saving of time and human labour (553). On the other hand, immersion in the technological beauty of the factory system is itself an educative experience like that which the rags undergo. The reader and the worker are both turned at the same time, in the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs (15; ch. 2), as Dickens wrote of Mr. MChoakumchild in Hard Times (1854), but with their interiority enriched where MChoakumchilds is debased. The publication of Hard Times in Household Words ruptured the friendship between Dickens and Martineau. In her Autobiography (1855) and The Factory Controversy: A Warning against Meddling Legislation (1855) Martineau excoriated Dickens and the other editors of Household Words for their publication of a series of articles on factory accidents and for Hard Times, which she found vigorously erroneous about matters of science and peppered with irresponsible sentimentality (Fielding and Smith 410, 407). Martineau thought Dickens had become a humanity-monger who did not know political economy well enough to presume to be a social reformer (Lohrli 35859). Martineau was not the only force acting against the anti-factory sentiment in Hard Times, however. As Tamara Ketabgian writes, Dickens may claim [t]here is no mystery in [them] (56), but the engines of Hard Times are as shadowy as the humans who surround them. Like the humans to whom they are putatively opposed, Ketabgian continues, these machines create the impression of a vast and unknowable depth (666). Dickens could not shake his own conviction that the factory system possessed a mysterious and unfathomable interiority. This conviction was one of the principles on which he had founded Household Words. The mightier inventions of the age, he wrote in A Preliminary Word in the rst issue, are not to our thinking, all material, but have a kind of souls in their stupendous bodies which may nd expression in Household Words (1). Household Words helped establish factories as seats of magic (Martineau, Magic Troughs 116) where [i]t seems as if every man so employed must be an artist (115). The factory-tourism articles taught Dickens and his readers to communicate with the factory system as if it were a social system of human subjects or literary characters and culture. Household Words factory-tourism articles marketed the factory system by characterizing factories as subjectivity manufactories. This writing was part of a larger recursive project in which liberal proponents of industrial development represented the factory system as an agent of culture, as Joseph Bizup has recently shown in Manufacturing Culture. Encouraging commodity fetishism by mystifying and anthropomorphizing the factory system, Household Words enabled the factory system to play a part in the manufacture of modern subjectivity. Perhaps they also had an inspirational role in Marxs analysis of the commodity fetish. Perhaps he feared mightier inventions of the age would lose the souls, hidden and revealed by Martineau and company, in their stupendous bodies.
New York University

I thank Mary Poovey for her encouragement and insightful suggestions during my revision of this article.

Characterizing the Factory System


1. This genre has been variously labeled industrial spectatorship (Freedgood, Factory Production 19) or factory-process (Fielding and Smith 410n) journalism. 2. See Berg, especially The Progress of the Machine (chapter 2 of The Machinery Question). 3. See Lohrli for a register of all the articles from Household Words with their authors and dates of publication. 4. Gray notes the innovative new forms of representation during the nineteenth century and suggests how different mediums may have inuenced and represented different political views of the factory movement (see The factory imagined 13162). 5. Compare section 27 of Kants Critique of Judgment for a theorization of this moment of subreption, when a subject supplants awe at the sublime object with awe at his own imaginative capacity to grasp for the objects incomprehensible sublimity, or the Wordsworthian egotism of Book VI of The Prelude, where Wordsworth similarly exalts the imagination when reality and physical perception disappoint. 6. Zimmerman notes that these two texts, both of which were cited by Marx in Capital, radically transform political economy by centering it on a factory understood not as a center for the circulation of grain but rather for the mechanized production of commodities (7). I suggest that we read this mechanized production of commodities not simply as the literal mechanized production of factory products / commodities, but also as the mechanized mystication of factory products.

Babbage, Charles. On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures. 1832. New York: Kelley, 1963. Berg, Maxine. The Machinery Question and the Making of Political Economy 18151848. London: Cambridge UP, 1980. Bizup, Joseph. Manufacturing Culture: Vindications of Early Victorian Industry. Victorian Literature and Culture Series. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2003. Blanchard, Sidney Laman. Biography of a Bad Shilling. Household Words 2 (25 January 1851): 42026. Briggs, Asa. Victorian Things. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988. Carlyle, Thomas. Past and Present. 1843. Ed. Richard D. Altick. New York: New York University P, 1965. . Signs of the Times. Edinburgh Review 98 (1829). Reprinted in The Works of Thomas Carlyle. Vol. 27. New York: Scribners, 1904. Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. 1854. Ed. Kate Flint. New York: Penguin, 2003. Dickens, Charles, and Mary Louisa Boyle. My Mahogany Friend. Household Words 2 (8 March 1851): 55862. Dickens, Charles, and Mark Lemon. A Paper-Mill. Household Words 1 (31 August 1850): 52931. Dickens, Charles, and W. H. Wills. Plate Glass. Household Words 2 (1 February 1851): 43337. Dodd, George. Umbrellas. Household Words 6 (13 November 1852): 20104. Fielding, K. J., and Anne, Smith. Hard Times and the Factory Controversy: Dickens vs. Harriet Martineau. Nineteenth-Century Fiction 24.4 (March 1970): 40427. Freedgood, Elaine, ed. Factory Production in Nineteenth-Century Britain. The Victorian Archives Series. New York: Oxford UP, 2003. . Fine Fingers: Victorian Handmade Lace and Utopian Consumption. Victorian Studies 45.4 (2003): 62547. Gray, Robert. The Factory Question and Industrial England, 18301860. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Horne, Richard, H. Dust; or Ugliness Redeemed. Household Words 1 (13 July 1850): 37984. . Gunpowder. Household Words 4 (7 February 1852): 45765. Kay-Shuttleworth, James Phillips. The Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes Employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester. 2nd ed. 1832. New York: A. M. Kelly, 1970. Ketabgian, Tamara. Melancholy Mad Elephants: Affect and the Animal Machine in Hard Times. Victorian Studies 45.4 (2003): 64976.



Lamb, Jonathan. Modern Metamorphoses and Disgraceful Tales. Things. Ed. Bill Brown. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2004. 193226. Lohrli, Anne. Household Words: A Weekly Journal 18501859 Conducted by Charles Dickens. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1974. 143; 35761. Martineau, Harriet. An Account of Some Treatment of Gold and Gems. Household Words 4 (31 January 1852): 44955. . Birmingham Glass Works. Household Words 5 (27 March 1852): 3238. . The Bobbin-Mill at Ambleside. Household Words 4 (November 1851): 22428. . Butter. Household Words 6 (25 December 1852): 34450. . Flower Shows in a Birmingham Hot-House. Household Words 4 (18 October 1851): 8285. . Guns and Pistols. Household Words 4 (13 March 1852): 58085. . Household Scenery. Household Words 5 (14 August 1852): 51319. . Kendal Weavers and Weaving. Household Words 4 (15 November 1851): 18389. . The Magic Troughs at Birmingham. Household Words 4 (25 October 1851): 11317. . Needles. Household Words 4 (28 February 1852): 54046. . Rainbow Making. Household Words 4 (14 February 1852): 48590. . Shawls. Household Words 5 (28 August 1852): 55256. . Time and the Hour. Household Words 4 (6 March 1852): 55559. . Triumphant Carriages. Household Words 6 (23 October 1852): 12125. . Tubal-Cain. Household Words 5 (15 May 1852): 19297. . What There Is in a Button. Household Words 5 (17 April 1852): 10612. . The Wonders of Nails and Screws. Household Words 4 (1 November 1851): 13842. Miller, D. A. Secret Subjects, Open Secrets. The Novel and the Police. Berkeley: U of California P, 1988. 192220. Morley, Henry. Pottery and Porcelain [rev. of Joseph Marryat, . . . A History of Pottery and Porcelain (1850)]. Household Words 4 (4 October 1851): 3237. . The Catalogues Account of Itself. Household Words 3 (23 August 1851): 51923. Poovey, Mary, ed. The Financial System in Nineteenth-Century Britain. The Victorian Archives Series. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Ure, Andrew. The Philosophy of Manufactures: or, an Exposition of the Scientic, Moral, and Commercial Economy of the Factory System of Great Britain. 1835. New York: Kelley, 1967. Zimmerman, Andrew. The Ideology of the Machine and the Spirit of the Factory: Remarx on Babbage and Ure. Cultural Critique 37 (Fall 1997): 529.