Sunday, 29 May 2016

A bound girl

I remember now that she was a bound girl and did not know where her father and mother were. Maybe she did not have any father. You know what I mean. Such bound children were often enough cruelly treated. They were children who had no parents, slaves really. There were very few orphan homes then. They were legally bound into some home. It was a matter of pure luck how it came out.
Sherwood Anderson - Death in the Woods (1933)

Although we know such things went on in the past, within the public arena it does not have the same status as slavery. This could be due in part to numbers and the horrific nature of slave trading, but there were other horrific issues too and for those the guilt seems to have abated.

The issue of child bondage is still moderately familiar partly because of media stories about far off sweat shops and partly because famous writers such as Zola, Hugo and Dickens have made it so to those who care to read them. Memes such as chimney sweeps sending little boys up chimneys have also become embedded in popular Victorian imagery. But novels, sweat shops and popular memes merely highlight the issue in a strangely offhand way, they do not give it depth. To some extent they also tone it down because the wider issue of bondage is not nurtured it in the same way that historical slavery is still nurtured.

Take Litton Mill in Derbyshire for example.

By 1830 everyone had heard of Litton Mill. It was one of the most notorious workplaces in England where child slaves were starved and tortured. There had been suspicions that all was not well as early as 1811 but it was not until 1828 that the horrific treatment of child apprentices there became common knowledge. 

The mill still stands and even today one cannot pass it without thinking of those long dead orphan children. Many were carted up from London slums to work in what would then have been a bleak nightmare of a place in the middle of nowhere. Ghosts of those children were said to haunt Litton Mill and I can see why. This is a fairly well known local story, but still we only have one patch in the patchwork. The horror and sadistic depths of it are not impressed into our cultural awareness to anything like the same extent as slavery. The level of slavery guilt seems to block out other, wider considerations. It certainly does so politically.

Maybe that is because we have it about right in terms of the weight we put on the two issues, but I don’t think so. We have bypassed the horrors of child bondage in our history and in so doing we have also bypassed the wider issue of personal bondage. To what degree are modern people bound by circumstances not of their own making and how tightly are they bound?

We can’t call it slavery and bondage now has other connotations, but the situation is real and not well represented in the public arena. It is more than alienation and much less than slavery but perhaps more widespread and damaging than we care to admit.One might almost see the whole thing as partly deliberate. If political leaders are willing to foster a crushing level of guilt about slavery, then milder yet still iniquitous forms of bondage barely reach the public arena. Apart from the hysterical memes spewed out by political correctness of course.

Yet mass bondage seems to be the whole point of current global political trends. Oddly convenient somehow.


Henry Kaye said...

An apt analogy. The only difference I can see between then and now is that we appear to be volunteers.

James Higham said...

I can never get it through my head why people would do this to children.

Demetrius said...

The misuse and sometime horrors of child labour went on until later than we think. The legislation of the mid 19th Century did impact in many ways but there was still evasion where they could get away with it. This could occur when you had corrupt or bad Workhouse Masters obliged to local factory or shop owners. It amounted to slavery in another name. One way out for a boy was to run away and join the Navy as a boy seaman if fit enough.

wiggiatlarge said...

And I wonder what these precious snowflakes would make of all that if anything......

A K Haart said...

Henry - yes, there is more than one way to forge the chains.

James - beyond me too.

Demetrius - and numbers must have been large yet we sweep it under the carpet.

Wiggia - hard to tell satire from life these days.