Novel Possibilities: Fiction and the Formation of Early Victorian Culture

Novel Possibilities: Fiction and the Formation of Early Victorian Culture

Novel Possibilities: Fiction and the Formation of Early Victorian Culture

Novel Possibilities: Fiction and the Formation of Early Victorian Culture

Synopsis

"In Novel Possibilities Joseph Childers considers the role of the novel, and especially the social-problem novel of the 1840s, in interpreting and shaping the cultures of the early Victorian period. Childers contends that novels such as Benjamin Disraeli's Coningsby, Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, and Charles Kingsley's Alton Locke were in direct competition with other forms of public discourse for interpretive dominance of their age. Childers examines the interactions between the novel and a set of texts generated by parliamentary and radical politics, the sanitation reform movement, and religion. Reversing the position of earlier studies of this period, he argues that the novel was in fact constitutive of - and often provided the model fortexts as diverse as the political agendas of Robert Peel and T. B. Macaulay or Edwin Chadwick's enormously important Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain, with its seemingly encyclopedic description of the conditions of poverty." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

This book is about change: the way understandings of the world change; how new understandings affect material change, and vice versa; the effects such change has on subjectivity as a cultural function; and changes in the ways we might view early Victorian culture and the role of the novel in its formation. At the heart of this consideration of change is a theoretical position lying between a conception of language as completely constitutive on the one hand and on the other as corresponding directly with "reality." in many ways this position supports arguments contending that the implementation of any way of seeing the world, what one might call a paradigm for making the world knowable, is less concerned with describing or interpreting the object at hand than it is with rediscovering the possibilities of its own content. Certainly it accommodates the premises that a cognitive activity must be self-conscious, always calling itself and its presuppositions to account, and that any interpretive act alters the configuration of language within which the novelist, politician, writer, or critic is working. Not assumed or supported in these pages, however, is a fundamental implication of this sort of argument: that because we work from within the confines of an interpretive model (or "interpretive communities") the possibility of any articulation already exists and nothing new can ever come to be, that there is no other way of seeing. Nor do the arguments and readings in this book rely upon suggestions that only descriptions that in some, albeit "hidden," way already exist within our cognitive conventions are available to interpretation, or that interpretive paradigm can only change by expressing itself in a way that seems different but is really just a permutation of what already exists.

Instead, in Novel Possibilities I want: to insist that all interpretations engage the world and that through this engagement ways of understand-

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