A Companion to the Victorian Novel

By William Baker; Kenneth Womack | Go to book overview

The Nineteenth-Century Political Novel

Julian Wolfreys

INTRODUCTION

Is it possible to talk about the “political novel” in the nineteenth century? Can we be certain that we can distinguish between novels that are political (supposing, for the moment, that the meaning of this term is self-evident) as opposed to those that are not? How, in speaking of a century which saw the enlargement of the franchise, Catholic Emancipation, the rise of women’s suffrage, union and other forms of collective organization, revolution throughout Europe if not in Britain, and the suspicion, by the end of the century, of anarchy virtually everywhere (at least in the imagination of governments, the police, and popular journalism), is it possible to begin to address the discourse of politics or—an even more difficult task—to separate the very notion of politics from itself, as multiple and fissured, rather than as a single object of inquiry, concept, or practice? Is it possible, or even desirable, on the one hand, to address politics narrowly conceived as the social, institutionally organized representation of the nation by its elected representatives and the laws that these representatives enact, regardless of political party, while, on the other, to speak of “politics,” defined more widely as those social movements and phenomena just alluded to? And, to return to the instituting question of this chapter, is it possible to speak of novels that are political, whether narrowly or broadly, as distinct from those

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