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Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood

Love on the Dole (1933)

by Walter Greenwood

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“Altogether, a pleasant place, marred by activities of unpleasant people whose qualities, perhaps, are sad reflections of sadder environments.”

Love on the Dole centres on the Hardcastle family and their neighbours in Hanky Park,a poor part of Salford. Mr Hardcastle, a miner, Mrs Hardcastle a housewife and their children Harry and Sally along with their neighbours represent a working-class economy which was always fragile and was further damaged during the 1930's as a consequences of the Great Depression.

The novel focuses mainly on Harry Hardcastle who having left school at 14 initially works at a pawnbroker’s, a job which he hates because he does not regard it as 'manly' before getting taken on as an indentured apprentice engineer at a local factory, Marlowe's. Harry's indenture is guaranteed for seven years after which he believes that he will become a qualified engineer and as such set for life.

However, as the worldwide economic slump hits the British economy Harry and his peers are dismissed as soon as they qualify for a full wage: ‘they now were fully qualified engineers. They also were qualified to draw the dole’ only to be replaced by younger 'apprentices' who can be paid a lower rate of pay. Harry’s hopes and dreams is now in ruins but initially he is not too downcast as he believes that as a qualified engineer he will be able to get another position but he is soon disillusioned as there is none.

The focus of the novel then shifts to Harry’s sister, Sally, who falls in love with Larry Meath, a qualified engineer and political activist in the Labour party. Larry is relatively well paid, has no dependants and is generally well liked by his neighbours who he helps with troublesome bureaucracies. Larry in short is a good catch. However, just as Harry’s dreams have been shattered so too are Sally’s. Shortly before she and Larry are to wed Larry is also made redundant but worse is to follow when he catches pneumonia and dies.

In the meantime Mr Hardcastle has also been made redundant when the coal mine where he worked closes and the government in an attempt to save money introduces a Means Test and have decided to stop Harry's and his father's dole money meaning that Sally, who works at a local textile mill, is the only family breadwinner. As unemployment increases in Hanky Park, it becomes the rule rather than the exception. To make matters worse Harry's girlfriend, Helen, finds herself pregnant meaning that they have to marry in order to be ‘respectable’.

Larry's demise on the face of appears to be quite a telling. He appears to be Hanky Park's only working-class intellectual and his death on the face of it seems to leave it's residents trapped and apparently with no hope of change.

Although this is a novel that is set in a very specific time in history when the British and the world economy was under considerable strain I believe that its central story still resonates in Britain today. Well paid working class jobs particularly in manufacturing appear difficult to find and even those that exist seem to have been undermined by the introduction of zero hours contracts where workers have no idea from one week to the next what they will earn. We also have a situation where good rental properties are becoming ever more unaffordable for working class people meaning that they are compelled to live in substandard accommodation where over time there rental payments far exceed the value of the property. Also we seem to have an establishment (in this case represented by the social security office staff and the Police) seem to be indifferent to the workers plight. I enjoyed the writers style which to me seems to really capture the despair that they all feel but I also enjoyed the social message that it conveyed. Walter Greenwood had been unemployed for three years when he wrote this his first book and it rapidly changed his life from being an unemployed Salford worker to a best-selling author, a remarkable achievement. ( )
  PilgrimJess | May 8, 2018 |
Review from the February 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard:

  Impossibilist | Sep 4, 2017 |
This is really a book about poverty - and feels as relevant now as in the 1930s, when it was written, and when it caused a huge stir (less likely nowadays). Set in Salford, it focuses on a community of wrenching poverty of means and aspiration, eloquently describing the grinding despair and hopelessness that poverty brings, and the apparently unceasing cycle that the members of the community are stuck in. One week at the countryside serves for a lifetime's allocation of pleasure. Neighbours help each other out, but also prey off each other. We have the pawnbroker and the bookie, the factory owner profiting from exploitation of young 'apprentices' ; the idealistic young man and the degradation of the many. There is no escape other than prostitution or criminality of some kind, it appears, but yet most of the time most of the inhabitants of the novel are as placid and hopeless as sheep. This should be read, as it is still a resonant reminder of what poverty does to the human soul, and what growing up in poverty for children means. At the time this had a major influence on some of the more punitive views on the workless and hopeless - we need something similar today.
  otterley | Jun 4, 2015 |
This is a powerful novel written and set in the early 1930s in Hanky Park in Salford, against a background of the threat of mass unemployment and grinding poverty. Unemployment is here depicted as almost a force of nature like a plague virus seeping throughout working class society. People in work struggle to make ends meet and have to pawn items of clothing between paydays, but knowing that they face even worse when they are made unemployed. The largest employer in Hanky Park takes on generations of young boys as apprentices when they leave school at 13, but very few of them get jobs when they qualify as engineers after seven years. The bleakness of lives dominated by this fear and by exploitative pawnbrokers and bookies is very vividly and movingly described. Yet the people still fall in love and attempt to build new lives as best they can, so the final message is mixed - one of resignation to the cycle of deprivation, but also of hope and dignity when the opportunity of a job and providing for one's loved ones does finally arise. Some powerful characters, especially Helen and Sally. 5/5 ( )
  john257hopper | Nov 16, 2012 |
This is a great book, which really captures the relentless and hopeless life of the Northern working classes in Salford in the 1930s. It's based mainly on one family, but brings in various other characters from the slum to show how they are all exploited and spat out by the capitalist system. The absolute poverty is brilliantly described, and the only ways out are illegal or immoral. Depressing, but a real piece of social history. ( )
2 vote AlisonSakai | Oct 18, 2010 |
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The Time is ripe, and rotten ripe, for change; Then let it come... (James Russell Lowell)
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They call this part "Hanky Park".
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
In Hanky Park near Salford, Harry and Sally Hardcastle grow up in a society preoccupied with mean economies, exploited by bookies and pawnbrokers, bullied by petty officials, sliding hopelessly towards the horrors of the Means Test. His apprenticeship over, Harry joins the shuffling dole queue. As the months pass, he sinks into nerveless apathy; his love-affair with a local girl ends in a shotgun marriage and, disowned by his family, Harry is tempted by crime. Sally, meanwhile, falls in love with Larry Meath, a self-educated Marxist. But Larry is a sick man and other more powerful rivals for her affections are closing in... (From the back cover of the Penguin Modern Classics edition)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140028277, Paperback)

The novel, depicting a northern English town in the midst of the thirties’ depression, was an instant classic when first published in 1933.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:13 -0400)

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