Economic Expansion and Geographical Affect in Mid-Nineteenth-Century British Fiction
Hunter, Georgina Rose Radermacher
Date: 8 August 2016
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
PhD in English
In the early and middle decades of the nineteenth century Britain was engaged in rapid, pervasive, and often violent processes of economic expansion. Work to date in Victorian Studies has tended to address this expansion as a phenomenon best understood with regard to the growth of the British Empire, often drawing attention to the way ...
In the early and middle decades of the nineteenth century Britain was engaged in rapid, pervasive, and often violent processes of economic expansion. Work to date in Victorian Studies has tended to address this expansion as a phenomenon best understood with regard to the growth of the British Empire, often drawing attention to the way in which metropolitan literature worked at home to support and sustain the exertion of imperial power abroad. While this work has drawn significant links between culture and imperialism, however, recent historical studies suggest there is more to be done on the genuinely global as opposed to colonial scope of British expansion, in a manner that recognises the complex, unevenly developed way in which this expansion took shape. By reading fiction written by a wide range of authors, including Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Harriet Martineau, and G. W. M. Reynolds, I argue that mid-Victorian literature registers the excitement, anxiety, and uncertainty felt by various individuals, communities and groups in Britain as the world changed and expanded around them. I use the term “geographical affect” in order to register how the literature I consider plotted the different ways in which people felt as they were variously impacted by increasingly world level market forces, lengthening commodity chains and pressures to think about where they might invest their labour and capital. This study argues that by giving shape to different perspectival scales, from the local, through to the regional, national, imperial, and global the authors pose key questions regarding what it feels like to live in an increasingly globalised world: How and where do people form bonds of social affiliation and loyalty in periods of expanding market forces? Where does one call home? How does one think about the objects that characterise the fabric of everyday life when so many goods are imported from other communities and countries? The first half of this thesis examines the geographical affect of industrial and metropolitan fiction, while in the second half the focus falls on rural, regional, and provincial narratives. The aim of my study is to demonstrate the ways in which authors depicted communities of different sizes and in different locations as experiencing and responding to globalised market forces in such a way that draws attention to the unsettling effects that they had on communal relations and identities.
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