19 Pages

Wealth and well-being

Environmental discourse about smoke in Manchester was a bewildering stream of contested and contradictory claims and concerns. By analysing how a variety of actors framed the phenomenon and investigating the context in which stories about the city's smoke unfolded, we can enrich our insights into how people defined, thought, and made choices about the local environmental conditions in which they lived. Thus far Victorian urban dwellers have been portrayed mainly as being uninterested in environmental issues. However, as I shall show, the citizens of nineteenth-century Manchester were much more than apathetic spectators where smoke pollution was concerned. To bring the main story lines about smoke pollution into sharper relief, I draw on a diverse range of texts, from newspaper stories, novels, and working class autobiographies to postcards, poems, and popular songs. I focus first on a 'wealth and well-being' story line, assembling the components of a narrative that consistently emphasised the 'inevitable' correlation between smoke, economic prosperity, and a felicitous lifestyle. I then knit together the threads of a narrative that accentuated 'waste and inefficiency', constantly stressing the dangers to the health of the urban workforce, the damage to the natural and built environment, and the uneconomic and wilful misuse of Britain's finite natural resources. Finally, I suggest reasons why the concept of smoke control did not readily capture the public's imagination.