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Life in the Iron Mills

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  881 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
NOTE: Includes a broad selection of historical and cultural documents plus the novella

This definitive edition reprints the text of Rebecca Harding Davis Life in the Iron Mills together with a broad selection of historical and cultural documents that open up the novella to the consideration of a range of social and cultural issues vital to Davis' nineteenth century. A gener
Hardcover, 435 pages
Published September 15th 1997 by Bedford Books (first published 1861)
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Kaylin (The Hiatus Queen)
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: for-school
Finals have descended upon me and here I am catching up before my American Lit final on Monday. Don't judge me

This was really important for the day and says really important things about class and gender and disability. But it's also really drawn out, over-explains and is very on-the-nose. I didn't enjoy reading it, but there's tons of great topics to be explored??
Dec 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-for-college
A short story/novella that does a great job exposing the injustices suffered by iron mill workers in the nineteenth century. Rebecca Harding Davis's commitment to realism tears away any romanticized notions of these laborers' awful working conditions. She incorporates several intriguing ideas into her piece, including the dehumanization of the working class's bodies and minds, the unfortunate importance of money to those who will never have it, and the sheer unfairness of industrialist capitalis ...more
Nov 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people interested in class relations, artists
I love the narrative technique used in this short story / novella. Interesting commentary on the "hunger" of the artist.

ETA: Also, the tension between realism and romanticism is great to read. And the symbolism. The symbolism is off the charts; my brain almost exploded geeking out over it.

I wrote a paper on this work about the power art has over people and the necessity for the artist to accept that, be comfortable with it, even learn to use it to his/her advantage. To prove my point I pitted H
Apr 02, 2015 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Laura
Mickey Hernandez
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
See my review of Hazard of New Fortunes... Similar subject matter, without the shallow resentment directed towards the financially well off. This book depicts the less fortunate with genuine sympathy, while also asking questions that transcend social class, such as how one can find fulfillment in a job that seems trivial. Very short, only about 30-50 pages depending on the print, but it is an excellent story.

Side note, what the heck is with the writing style? Does anyone else think it is experi
I never knew Rebecca Harding Davis was from Southwestern Penna., so this is a nice surprise on a few levels. I highly recommend this short stroy. It's easy to get through, somewhat surprisingly (perhaps because of the approach the author takes to telling this story). I found this story really moving. AaHarding davis uses mazing imagery and a tone that works quite well. Very interesting labor history meets short fiction. Great stuff.
Mar 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A fabulous and vastly ignored book.
Free download available at Project Gutenberg.
Jesse Field
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
The entry on realism in A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia brings this up, and it's not hard to see the linear connection between Clyde Griffiths of An American Tragedy and this story's Hugh Wolfe, though the latter is shockingly more wretched, as we might expect of an 1861 Welsh mill worker:
Physically, Nature had promised the man but little. He had already lost the strength and instinct vigor of a man, his muscles were thin, his nerves weak, his face (a meek, woman's face) haggard, yellow with co
Lady Jane
Jan 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Hugh Wolfe in “Life In The Iron Mills” inspires the most tragic pathos in anybody who can faintly relate to him. He appears to exhibit magnificent talent in the art of sculpture, but has neither time nor money to pursue this aspiration. His time is absorbed into the vacuum of the interests of the corporate monster, and his wages are hardly enough for basic necessities. Without the proper monetary resources, Wolfe is unable to chase after his dream of becoming a sculptor. When the visitors to the ...more
Aug 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was abducted into an apocalyptic scene where puddlers are doomed for hard work in hellish conditions. Also, the narrative technic that Harding Davis uses is so captivating that the reader finds himself part of the life of the characters. It makes you feel pretty much involved in these very dehumanizing and slave-like social conditions of the working class in the "urbanized" parts of America. As a matter of fact, it is a "modern hell" that swallows down the lives of many people like Deborah and ...more
Nicole Aceto
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Moving call to arms for those who struggle to make a living
Regina Betz
Mar 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
If you enjoy Hawthorne's use of symbols, you'll find Davis's novella, "Life in the Iron Mills," worthwhile. The nineteenth-century plot is a seemingly simple read. However, it proves to be multi-faceted if you delve deeper into the novel; it provides heavy social, political, religious, and gender roles commentary.
Davis tactfully constructs each character; the dialogue and narration of the story are extremely powerful. The writer displays America's grotesque industralization in a manner comparabl
Jan 13, 2016 rated it liked it
I read this story for my American Literature class and honestly, this story did not do much for me. It jumped around from the narrator to the story too much and within the story the narrator skipped over times such as before Hugh goes to prison. Also there is the unrequited love of sorts between Deborah and Hugh (and they are cousins) it just throws me off.
One idea about this story that I did love is the portrayal of everyone during the industrial times, it was very meek and dull but that added
I only read Life in the Iron Mills in this collection, and honestly it was incredible.

Others in my class called it boring and long and grinding. I found it fascinating.

There is something in the dreariness of Davis' words that communicates the daily grind of 19th century America. And yet her language is beautiful; striking in only the way old English - proper English - can be. And perhaps I am too much of an English major snob, but I liked the complexity of her syntax.

That being said, the pl
Oct 20, 2012 rated it liked it
The three stars represent my take on Realism. Rebecca Harding Davis does a beautiful job of spitting in the reader's eye and making the reader hate this book, or at least the circumstances of this book. It is not a happy tale and the book is not meant to be enjoyed. I believe it is meant to inspire sympathy, but, to me, Davis only inspires disdain. She treats her audience as cruely as poverty treats Hugh Wolfe. She does not inspire sympathy, eventhough her cast of characters deserve it. Badly do ...more
I stumbled upon this book quite by accident. It was during my five years in a women's monastery and it happened to be on a CD I received along with a new computer I acquired for transcribing texts and scanning books. I normally would not have read something as unrelated to our life as this, but I went ahead and read it anyway, as the subject matter dealt with Welsh iron mill workers and I could hardly have resisted a book which ignited my latent, (dormant), political activist sensibilities. I we ...more
Demisty Bellinger
A short piece describing life in an iron town, which is full of dirty, uneducated, disenfranchised, and marginalized characters, for the two characters Hugh and Deborah Wolfe. The town is one bordering on north and south, so slaves and slavery are ofttimes brought up, often as a comparison of the life of the mill workers and others. The book is narrated by a Quaker—maybe Deborah—and is very sympathetic to factory workers.
Rebecca Cantor
Jun 15, 2009 rated it liked it
Had a hard time deciding what to rate this story. It has many great aspects. I appreciate the metaphor of artist as hungry. I appreciate that it's about an awkward hunchbacked woman, and a weak, unpopular artist who works at an Iron Mill. I loved the beginning, especially the clipped sentences like, "I am going to be honest. This is what I want you to do. I want you to hide your disgust..." But overall, I found it rather dull and difficult to get through. Please tell me why I'm wrong!
Nov 23, 2015 rated it liked it
School read. One passage made me cry. I may just be crying from exhaustion at this point, though.
Yay for Davis being ahead of her time with the whole Realism thing.
Super heavy-handed and didactic. A little Dickensian, now that I think about it.
Lot of Biblical and color imagery.
Didn't love it. Didn't hate it. Yay American Lit.
Nov 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really like how this story was written. After doing some research on it, I discovered that it was written during an election year. Rebecca Harding Davis say fit to mention the hard working Immigrant families in her piece and how hungry they were for a better life that would not come. All in all, the story ends with a sense of hope for the future!
This edition has a version that has been"translated" into modern English, making it a lot easier to read. The original version is in an appendix. There's also a scholarly essay. The story shows how hard life was for poor, working immigrants, making it relevant for today's growing inequality.
Nov 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010
This was an assigned reading for my Women in Literature class, and I thought, although it was very sad, that it was an interesting read based on how society and industry itself has changed and evolved through U.S. history. Well written and a very quick read.
Aug 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
The story's haunting imagery and sense of suspense are muddled somewhat by Harding's incomprehensible punctuation and preachy interjections, but the story remains a moving portrayal of the struggle of the working poor in Industrial Revolution era America.
Aug 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Both the language and the philosophy (deep emotional resonance) of this short story were extraordinary!! :D :D :D :D :D :D

It was so touching AND so beautiful (the descriptions, word choice, etc)...
Sep 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Davis’ romantic-realism evokes the hellish atmosphere of life in the industrial mills and desperate poverty of the working class. She symbolically represents the starving humanity with the mills, and harsh disparity that separates the social class.
Aug 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a very short story about a poor man during the industrialization period who is struggling to make ends meat, a very interesting look at the world before workers rights were introduced to the work place
Sep 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite short stories.
Sarah Kraemer
Oct 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Apr 10, 2015 marked it as to-read
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Rebecca Blaine Harding Davis (June 24, 1831 – September 29, 1910; born Rebecca Blaine Harding) was an American author and journalist. She is deemed a pioneer of literary realism in American literature. She graduated valedictorian from Washington Female Seminary in Pennsylvania. Her most important literary work is the novella Life in the Iron Mills, published in the April 1861 edition of the Atlant ...more
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