Novel Possibilities: Fiction and the Formation of Early Victorian Culture

By Joseph W. Childers | Go to book overview

Notes

Introduction
Compare William James's description of pragmatic method, which must not be content to rest on closure, or what he called a "solving name" such as "God," "Reason," or the "Absolute." Instead pragmatism must "bring out of each word its practical cash-value, set it at work within the stream of [one's] experience. [The pragmatic method] appears less as a solution, then, than as a program for more work, and more particularly as an indication of the ways in which existing realities may be changed" (31-32). James implies that the world we make with our ways of seeing is only one of any number of possible realities; yet it is, once made, a reality that may be felt, experienced, described, and changed.
See also Judith Newton, "History as Usual? Feminism and the 'New Historicism,'" and Ellen Pollak, "Feminism and the New Historicism: A Tale of Difference or the Same Old Story?"
Admittedly, Gaskell's novels have been steadily recuperated since Winifred Gérin's Life and Coral Lansbury Elizabeth Gaskell appeared in the mid 1970s and the cultural and literary history done in books like Hilary Schor excellent Scheherezade in the Marketplace ( 1992) has helped to renew interest in Mary Barton. Coningsby has not fared so well, however; discussions of that first installment of the Young England trilogy have been the domain primarily of political historians and Disraeli biographers. Similarly, critiques of Alton Locke, at least until quite recently, have been relegated mostly to encyclopedic histories of the novel. There are, of course, some very notable exceptions such as Catherine Gallagher The Industrial Reformation of English Fiction, Louis Cazamian The Social Novel in England, 1830-1850, and Raymond Williams Culture and Society.
See Catherine Gallagher, The Industrial Reformation of English Fiction 1832- 1867 ( 1985); Daniel Cottom, Social Figures: George Eliot, Social History, and Literary Representation ( 1987); D. A. Miller, The Novel and the Police ( 1987); Nancy Armstrong , Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel ( 1987); Rosemarie Bodenheimer , The Politics of Story in Victorian Social Fiction ( 1988); and Mary Poovey , Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England ( 1989).
According to this reasoning the very term "Victorian" should be abandoned, for it insinuates far more than the temporal boundaries of a period of study; it suggests an undifferentiated set of social, political, and economic practices and standards that misrepresents the variety, competition, and turmoil of public and private languages that were nineteenth-century England. No doubt it is the un-

-183-

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