Love on the Dole: Doleful view of past and future

Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole is a bleak novel set in in industrial England in the years between the First and Second World Wars.

The technological expertise that had made wholesale slaughter possible in 1914 is being directed toward making wholesale poverty possible in 1934.

Man and woman with infant are on cover of Love on the Dole.
Cover of 1976 paperback version of Love on the Dole

Harry Hardman, 14, is through with school. Scorning his parents’ advice, Harry apprentices himself at the Marlowe manufacturing plant for seven years.

Harry sees badge #2510 as his ticket to training and a high-paying job as an engineer.

He learns there’s no training, no ticket to upward mobility.

When he finishes his apprenticeship, he learns one more thing: There’s no job.

With a wife and child to support, Harry does what he has to.

He joins the line of the unemployed.

Identification of review of novel that wasn't a bestseller but has become a classic.Love on the Dole lacks the rounded character development we expect in today’s novels, and the dialect takes a bit of getting used to, but those deficiencies only add to Greenwood’s picture of how the deck is stacked against ordinary men in the age of increasingly intelligent machines.

Here’s a passage in which 14-year-old Harry consults the Marxist labor organizer when he first senses Marlowe’s has no intention of training him for a career:

‘You’re part of a graft, Harry,’ [Larry Meath] said: ‘All Marlowe’s want is cheap labour; and the apprentice racket is one of their ways of getting it. Nobody’ll teach you anything simply because there’s so little to be learnt. You’ll pick up all you require by asking questions and watching others work. You see, all this machinery’s being more simplified year after year until all it wants is experienced machine feeders and watchers. Some of the new plant doesn’t even need that. Look in the brass-finishing shop when you’re that way. Ask the foreman to show you that screw-making machine. That can work twenty-four hours a day without anybody going near it. Your apprenticeship’s a swindle, Harry. The men they turn out think they’re engineers same as they do at all the other places, but they’re only machine minders. Don’t you remember the women during the war?’

‘What women?’ Harry asked, troubled by what Larry had said.

‘The women who took the places of the engineers who’d all served their time. The women picked up straightaway what Marlowe’s and the others say it takes seven year’s apprenticeship to learn,’ a wry smile: ‘Still, if you want to be what everybody calls an “engineer”, you’ve no choice but to serve your seven years. I hear that they’re considering refusing to bind themselves in contracting to provide seven years’ employment. There is a rumour about that there aren’t to be any more apprentices. You see, Harry, if they don’t bind themselves, as they have to do in the indentures, they can clear the shop of all surplus labour when times are bad. And things are shaping that way, now,” a grin: ‘You’ve no need to worry, though. You’ve seven years’ employment certain.’

What is most striking about Love on the Dole is now much it feels like 2017 America. If Harry lived in Pennsylvania today, he would be a Trump supporter.

Love on the Dole will let you experience the pain and anger that fuels them.

It may well also foretell what’s ahead in America in the next 20 years.

Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood
©Walter Greenwood, 1933; published by Johnathan Cape
My copy: Penguin Books Ltd., 1976; paperback, 254 pp.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Midlander Draws Plot From Characters

In The Midlander*, Booth Tarkington creates a set of distinctive characters whose behavior weaves a plot that feels inevitable.

From childhood, the Oliphant brothers are uncongenial. Harlan Oliphant is an aloof aristocrat, respectable and responsible; his younger brother, Dan, is a rumpled democrat, popular and aimless.

Tarkington embeds the Oliphant brothers’ story in the setting of the rise of America’s great manufacturing cities in the two decades before World War I.

Harlan falls for the girl next door; Martha cares only for Dan, who considers her just a good pal.

When Dan chooses a city girl instead of Martha, his grandmother changes her will in favor of Harlan, whom she dislikes, rather than let Dan waste her fortune.

Dan impulsively becomes a real estate developer, planning to make a fortune in 10 years or so when Midland would have grown big enough to reach his Ornaby Addition.

Dan’s wife, Lena, makes no attempt to fit in with his plans. She is bitterly jealous of Martha.

Dan never wavers from his vision, never grows beyond his 20-year-old self as everyone else around him changes in more or less subtle ways.

Despite the novel’s complexity, Tarkington’s lean prose here makes The Midlander both entertaining and rewarding reading.


*Tarkington published the first edition of The Midlander in 1924, wrapping up a set of three novels which he brought out in a single volume under the name Growth in 1927. In Growth, Tarkington changed the name The Midlander to National Avenue. National Avenue appears as the final work in that volume. The other novels in the trilogy are The Magnificent Ambersons (1918) and The Turmoil (1915)


The Midlander*
By Booth Tarkington
Pages 591-887 of Growth
1924 bestseller #7
My grade: A-

©2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Inheritance a Study in Chips from Old Blocks

Loom in New Lanark Mill
Phyllis Bentley’s Inheritance follows two intertwined Yorkshire families, the Oldroyds and the Bamforths, for almost 120 years.

The story begins in 1812. William Oldroyd decides to mechanize his woolen mill, a move that will put many workers out of jobs. Joe Bamforth, a foreman whose job is secure, joins his fellow mill hands, taking the Luddite oath. A quartet of Luddites murder the elder Oldroyd. Although Joe is guiltless, he chooses to be hanged with his mates.

Young Will takes over the business, spurning Mary Oldroyd whom he loves and who, unknown to Will, carries his child. Much later, as a widower, Will takes Mary as his second wife and acknowledges his son Jonathan, to the distress of the children of both wives.

In the decades through World War I, the Oldroyd’s financial fortunes rise and the Bamforth’s decline.

The Oldroyds are respected for financial savvy, the Bamforths for their moral standards.

The Oldroyds scramble to stay on top; the Bamforths reach a hand to help others rise.

Bentley is superb at showing ordinary people caught up in historic events. Readers can learn a great deal about the contemporary economic situation from this novels. The Luddites, rather than being old-fashioned fuddy-duddies, seem very much like contemporary workers sucked into the Occupy movement.

Bentley’s characters, however, are bundles of character traits rather than true individuals. The children in the book, in particular, appear to replicas of their dominant parent from the moment of birth. At the last, Bentley’s novel sinks beneath the implausibility of a preteen jumping from a train to change the world.

Inheritance
Phyllis Bentley
MacMillan, 1931
1932 Bestseller #9
592 pages

Photo credit: Loom in  in New Lanark Mill, Scotland uploaded by hazelharp http://www.sxc.hu/photo/207250

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Pulitzer winner Magnificent Ambersons no great prize today

Booth Tarkington didn’t have a novel on the bestseller list in 1918, but he did win a Pulitzer Prize for a novel he published that year.

The Magnificent Ambersons is a coming of age novel plastered on top of a study of the rise and fall of an American family.

During the panic of 1873, General Amberson made a killing that propelled his family to the top of the Midland social ladder.

Grandson Georgie is a snob of the nastiest sort. Most of the town would like to see him get his comeuppance.

Georgie falls for a charming girl whose father, Eugene Morgan, had been in love with his mother years before. Eugene is in the automobile business, on his way to becoming far richer than the Ambersons.

When his widowed mother begins seeing her old beau again, Georgie throws a fit. Used to doing everything Georgie wants, his mother gives in and dies without seeing Eugene again.

Georgie finds himself sudenly penniless, jobless, homeless. He’s gotten his comeuppance, but the people who wished it on him are not around to see. Autos and industrialization have changed the town beyond recognition.

The Magnificent Ambersons is one of Booth Tarkington’s less successful stories. Georgie is too nasty to be an appropriate target for Tarkington’s usual gentle satire, and Georgie’s growing up is too sudden to be plausible.

The Magnificent Ambersons
By Booth Tarkington
Illus. Arthur William Brown
Doubleday, Page, 1919
516 pages
Project Gutenberg ebook #8867
My grade: C+
© 2008 Linda Gorton Aragoni