The Factory Lass.
Title:The Factory Lass
1. John Heywood
2. Simpkin, Marshall, and Co.
1. 143 Deansgate, Manchester
Keywords:charity, dialect, domesticity, morality, poverty, work
This poem has twelve eight-line stanzas (‘octets’ or ‘octaves’) which are numbered using Roman numerals. This often attributes a seriousness to the poem, or even suggests that the stanzas might stand alone as poems. In this case though, the numbered stanzas merely seem to represent different ways that the young ‘factory lass’ of the title addresses the presumably middle-class lady as she asks her for work. There is quite a regular iambic tetrameter to most lines and yet the alternating rhymes prevent the piece from sounding forced. You might notice that the spelling system (orthography) of the dialect terms here is different from other writers. In particular Joseph Ramsbottom tends to indicate quite distinctive and linguistically complex consonant sounds such as that in ‘dhrops’ and ‘sthrivin’. This might be the way that the poet hears speech and interprets it, but might just as well indicate regional differences in that Ramsbottom was very much a Manchester poet. Interestingly, that extra aspirant might have been influenced by the considerable Irish presence in Manchester. The sound persists in some Irish pronunciations but has vanished from Mancunian speech.
Joseph Ramsbottom’s Phases of Distress(1864) collection is almost all we have of his poetry but it displays a fine ear for dialect pronunciation and a particular talent for a labouring-class version of the dramatic monologues which Robert Browning was writing at around the same time. Each poem is written in a different voice and articulates the concerns of a particular element of society in relation to the financial hardships experienced during the Cotton Famine. The consistent element in this poem is the young speaker’s refusal to accept any form of charity, favouring instead the opportunity to work for her pay. This disdain for charity is quite a common trope in Cotton Famine poetry but there is an irony in the fact that this kind of pride also contributed to the general idea of the necessarily ‘deserving poor’, and so made charitable giving more likely.