Imagining Inclusive Society in Nineteenth-Century Novels: The Code of Sincerity in the Public Sphere

Imagining Inclusive Society in Nineteenth-Century Novels: The Code of Sincerity in the Public Sphere

by Pam Morris
     
 

In Imagining Inclusive Society in Nineteenth-Century Novels, Pam Morris traces a dramatic transformation of British public consciousness that occurred between the Reform Acts of 1832 and 1867. This brief period saw a shift from a naturalized acceptance of social hierarchy to a general imagining of a modern mass culture. Central to this collective revisioning

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Overview

In Imagining Inclusive Society in Nineteenth-Century Novels, Pam Morris traces a dramatic transformation of British public consciousness that occurred between the Reform Acts of 1832 and 1867. This brief period saw a shift from a naturalized acceptance of social hierarchy to a general imagining of a modern mass culture. Central to this collective revisioning of social relations was the pressure to restyle political leadership in terms of popular legitimacy, to develop a more inclusive mode of discourse within an increasingly heterogeneous public sphere and to find new ways of inscribing social distinctions and exclusions.

Morris argues that in the transformed public sphere of mid-nineteenth-century Britain, the urbane code of civility collapsed under the strain of the conflicting interests that constitute mass society. It was replaced by a "code of sincerity," often manipulative and always ideological in that its inclusiveness was based upon a formally egalitarian assumption of mutual interiorities. The irresistible movement toward mass politics shifted the location of power into the public domain. Increasingly, national leaders sought to gain legitimacy by projecting a performance of charismatic "sincerity" as a flattering and insinuating mode of address to mass audiences. Yet, by the latter decades of the century, while the code of sincerity continued to dominate popular and political culture, traditional political and intellectual elites were reinscribing social distinctions and exclusions. They did so both culturally—by articulating sensibility as skepticism, irony, and aestheticism—and scientifically—by introducing evolutionist notions of sensibility and attaching these to a rigorous disciplinary code of bodily visuality.

Through an intensive, intertextual reading of six key novels (Bronte's Shirley, Thackeray's Henry Esmond, Dickens's Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend, Gaskell's North and South, and Eliot's Romola) and an array of Victorian periodicals and political essays, Morris analyzes just how actively novelists engaged in these social transformations. Drawing on a wide range of literary, cultural, and historical thinkers—Jürgen Habermas, Michel Foucault, Benedict Anderson, Mary Poovey, and Charles Tilly—Morris makes an original and highly sophisticated contribution to our understanding of the complex and always contested processes of imagining social inclusiveness.

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Editorial Reviews

Cercles - Gerardo Del Guercio

A well-researched study.

Modern Philology - Ivan Kreilkamp

Morris tells with rigor and intelligence an important story.

Choice

A must read for Victorianists interested in politics, the novel, and cultural studies in general.

Dickens Quarterly

Morris's forays into imagining cultural and literary constructions of inclusive society in Victorian England are both informed and informative.

Cercles
A well-researched study.

— Gerardo Del Guercio

Modern Philology
Morris tells with rigor and intelligence an important story.

— Ivan Kreilkamp

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801879111
Publisher:
Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date:
05/28/2004
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.82(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

John Plotz

This is a striking, original, inventive, and worthwhile contribution to current debates about what cautionary and salutary lessons Victorian mass and high culture have to offer us today. I look to it to spark a productive and impassioned discussion about the relationship between literary notions of the public, the nation, the crowd, and mass culture.

John Plotz

This is a striking, original, inventive, and worthwhile contribution to current debates about what cautionary and salutary lessons Victorian mass and high culture have to offer us today. I look to it to spark a productive and impassioned discussion about the relationship between literary notions of the public, the nation, the crowd, and mass culture.

John Plotz, Brandeis University

Meet the Author

Pam Morris is director of the Research Centre for Literature and Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University. Her previous books include Dickens's Class Consciousness and Literature and Feminism.

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