Beginning late in the eighteenth century and going on till the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution caused an unexpected upheaval in every aspect of society across Britain, Europe and large parts of America. The trend continued to heavily influence the rest of the world, and soon began to be known by the term industrialisation. While the movement may have been known by different names, the effects it brought about were common.
Social and economic differences arose and the Industrial Revolution had made an everlasting impact. Given this, it is interesting to note that the Industrial Revolution in part was fuelled by the economic necessity of many women, single and married, to find waged work outside their home. Women mostly found jobs in domestic service, textile factories, and piece work shops. They also worked in the coal mines. For some, the Industrial Revolution provided independent wages, mobility and a better standard of living.
For the majority, however, factory work in the early years of the 19th century resulted in a life of hardship. Heart-breaking testimonies from England and Wales were collected by Parliamentary commissions who began to investigate the industrial employment of women and children in the early 1840s. Inspectors visited mills, mines and shops taking evidence from workers to see ways in which the Industrial Revolution affected women and families (Women in World History).
They found that working conditions were often unsanitary and the work dangerous, education suffered because of the demands of work, home life suffered as women were faced with the double burden of factory work followed by domestic chores and child care, men assumed supervisory roles over women and received higher wages, unsupervised young women away from home generated societal fears over their fate and as a result of the need for wages in the growing cash economy, families became dependent on the wages of women and children.
There was also some worker opposition to proposals that child and female labour should be abolished from certain jobs (Women in World History). Set against this background, any kind of literary activity from a woman of the times is an exceptional and rare occurrence. To think that there was more than just literary activity then, to realise that there were women from this very age who can be classified as poets of the romantic era, ones who can be recognised for their work, style and contribution to the field, is a task that is commendable.
At one end of the Romantic spectrum there are the men, poets who stood out for their style, technique and subjects. Popular favourites in the list included William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth, John Keats and Lord Byron. Known for their masterpieces, these poets continue to live on in literature. However, the other end of the spectrum is a softer yet more interesting one.
It comprised women who offered entirely different perspectives on the exact same subjects that men were writing about. It comprised poets who were writing, for once, about subjects that mattered to women, and through the Revolution and beyond, women poets of the Romantic era like Mary Shelley, Carolina Nairne, and Mary Lamb made an impact that continues to be felt.