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

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 ...

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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.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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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.
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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801879111
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2004
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.82 (d)

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.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Pt I Introduction
1 Imagining inclusive society, 1846-1867 : theoretical perspectives 3
2 Producing inclusive society, 1846-1867 : empirical histories 31
Pt. II Inclusive leadership : heroes of domesticity
3 Shirley : charisma or sincerity? 57
4 The history of Henry Esmond, Esq. : the hero as sincere man 86
Pt. III The constitution of the public
5 Bleak house : interested knowledge and imaginary power 111
6 North and South : from public sphere to manipulative publicity 137
Pt. IV Embodying mass culture
7 Romola: the politics of disinterestedness 165
8 Our mutual friend : visualizing distinction 197
Conclusion 223
Notes 231
Works Cited 243
Index 253
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