Thursday, February 4, 2010

It Could Always Be Worse: Life in the Iron-Mills, by Rececca Harding Davis

Hate your job? Then, my friends, read Life in the Iron-Mills, by Rebecca Harding Davis: "A reality of soul-starvation, of living death, that meets you every day under the besotted faces on the street."

Originally printed in the Atlantic Montly in 1861, the story is set in a factory in the eighteenth century and will help put things in perspective about what work has meant over the last two hundred years.  Maybe.  Unless you really truly identify with the following quotations, in which case it'll depress you:
  • "You call it an altogether serious thing to be alive: to these men it is a drunken jest, a joke,--horrible to angels perhaps, to them commonplace enough."
  • "You may think it a tiresome story enough, as foggy as the day, sharpened by no sudden flashes of pain or pleasure.--I know: only the outline of a dull life, that long since, with thousands of dull lives like its own, was vainly lived and lost: thousands of them, massed, vile, slimy lives, like those of the torpid lizards in yonder stagnant water-butt."
  • "There is a secret down here, in this nightmare fog, that has lain dumb for centuries: I want to make it a real thing to you. You, Egoist, or Pantheist, or Arminian, busy in making straight paths for your feet on the hills, do not see it clearly,--this terrible question which men here have gone mad and died trying to answer. I dare not put this secret into words. I told you it was dumb. These men, going by with drunken faces and brains full of unawakened power, do not ask it of Society or of God. Their lives ask it; their deaths ask it. There is no reply."
  • "So long ago he began, that he thinks sometimes he has worked there for ages. There is no hope that it will ever end. Think that God put into this man's soul a fierce thirst for beauty,--to know it, to create it; to be--something, he knows not what,--other than he is. There are moments when a passing cloud, the sun glinting on the purple thistles, a kindly smile, a child's face, will rouse him to a passion of pain,--when his nature starts up with a mad cry of rage against God, man, whoever it is that has forced this vile, slimy life upon him."
It could always be worse, my friends.


Homero said...

Man, I love this story. Super depressing, but good.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Me too. I was walking to work this morning and something about the angle of the light reminded me of this story. (I think it's because I wrote a paper on the role that light plays in Hugh's life.)

I also found a book last night that had highlights from THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY that reminded me of it, so I figured it was meant to be.

Anonymous said...

They didn't work in Iron Mills... They actually worked for The Home Depot Inc.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

I think Home Depot is just the 21st Century reincarnation of the Iron Mills. Luckily I have a comfy desk job, so I did feel (marginally) better after reading it.

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