chapter  2
28 Pages

The Forefathers of the Working-Class Novel

The novels of Robert Tressell and D.H. Lawrence are widely seen to mark the ‘beginnings’ of working-class fiction in Britain in the twentieth century. Though several authors from working-class backgrounds were published in the Edwardian era, including Allen Clarke, Patrick MacGill (1899-1963) and Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, Tressell’s and Lawrence’s work has had a profound impact on the subsequent character, development and reception of working-class fiction.2 Unlike late nineteenth-century slum novelists, David Herbert Lawrence and Robert Tressell (the pen name of Robert Croker/Noonan recalls the decorator’s trestle table) were seen to originate from the working-class milieu that they depicted in their novels. This was a key distinction in understanding their work for contemporary critics. The writing of both authors (at least the early Lawrence) coincided with critical assumptions that working-class writing was grounded in the ‘real’ (the present, the physical, the embodied), and helped to establish a way of reading working-class fiction as historical fact that has continued through much of the twentieth and into the twenty-first century.