Working Class Literature

is creating literary culture from below
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About

“Take away all that the working class has given to English literature and that literature would scarcely suffer.” So said Virginia Woolf in her 1940 presentation to the Workers’ Educational Association titled The Leaning Tower.

Yet while her wider point about the exclusion of working-class voices from literature is correct, her statement is nonetheless partially complicit in the problem she’s pointing out: specifically, that ‘all that the working class has given to English literature’ has been taken away, and that literature has suffered as a result. By Woolf’s time literature had already seen the works of eighteenth-century thresher poet, Stephen Duck, various Chartist poets and novelists such as Thomas Cooper and Thomas Martin Wheeler, as well as Robert Tressell, Ethel Carnie Holdsworth and the writers of the proletarian literature movement of the 1930s. Taking into account the many working-class writers around the world since Woolf’s paper or the various movements of working people which have inspired writers and their literary works, then the idea of taking away ‘all that the working class has given to English literature’ starts to seem like it would make literature suffer more than first thought.

The aim of this podcast, then, is to draw out the contributions of working-class people to literature, whether as writers or participants in movements which would become literary events. We hope to boost these long neglected working-class writers and promote working-class literature not just as an area for study due to its high standard of artistic craft but also because it’s made up of a wide and varied range of texts which should be read and enjoyed more than they currently are.
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