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Victorian Literature and the Victorian State

, 320 pages
December 2004



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Victorian Literature and the Victorian State

Character and Governance in a Liberal Society

Studies of Victorian governance have been profoundly influenced by Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault's groundbreaking genealogy of modern power. Yet, according to Lauren Goodlad, Foucault's analysis is better suited to the history of the Continent than to nineteenth-century Britain, with its decentralized, voluntarist institutional culture and passionate disdain for state interference. Focusing on a wide range of Victorian writing—from literary figures such as Charles Dickens, George Gissing, Harriet Martineau, J. S. Mill, Anthony Trollope, and H. G. Wells to prominent social reformers such as Edwin Chadwick, Thomas Chalmers, Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth, and Beatrice Webb—Goodlad shows that Foucault's later essays on liberalism and "governmentality" provide better critical tools for understanding the nineteenth-century British state.

Victorian Literature and the Victorian State delves into contemporary debates over sanitary, education, and civil service reform, the Poor Laws, and the century-long attempt to substitute organized charity for state services. Goodlad's readings elucidate the distinctive quandary of Victorian Britain and, indeed, any modern society conceived in liberal terms: the elusive quest for a "pastoral" agency that is rational, all-embracing, and effective but also anti-bureaucratic, personalized, and liberatory. In this study, impressively grounded in literary criticism, social history, and political theory, Goodlad offers a timely post-Foucauldian account of Victorian governance that speaks to the resurgent neoliberalism of our own day.

Lauren M. E. Goodlad is an associate professor of English at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

" Victorian Literature and the Victorian State is a strong and important book. I am particularly impressed by its engagement with the actual politics of the Victorian age, to an extent far greater than is usual in literary study; conversely, its strong critical analyses of major works of fiction by major authors do far more than historians are generally capable of when they turn to literature."

"In this impressive book, Lauren Goodlad rethinks a deep-seated tension in British liberalism between self-reliance and civic responsibility. She draws on a wide range of literary and historical sources to explain why liberalism, aspiring to be both rational and liberating, often succeeded in being neither. An engaging and rewarding study which, among its many accomplishments, puts Foucault to new use for Victorian studies."

"Goodlad shifts the paradigm for studying Victorian society from the... early Foucault... A welcome intervention into new historicist critical practices."

"One of the most important contributions to the study of the Victorian novel to appear thus far in the twenty-first century."

"Lauren Goodlad seems poised to take her place among the most incisive and respected critics of Victorian literature and culture... Goodlad's study is erudite in its detailed accounts of period literatures and contexts and rigorously fair-minded in its approach to the past."

"Meticulous and illuminating book."

"With this welcome study, Goodlad extends and revises post-Foucauldian theories of state power and governance in 19th-century England... It will undoubtedly spark much productive debate among scholars of the Victorian period."

"Lauren Goodlad's excellent book examines the New Poor Law, sanitary reform, and civil service reform within their political and literary contexts, particularly that provided by Victorian liberalism, a philosophy that holds that the best government is that which governs least."

"Goodlad finds a tension at the heart of Victorian liberal society between the highly influential discourse of independence and self-help and an emergent discourse of state and civic responsibility... Victorian Literature and the Victorian State consists of fine-grained, historicist analysis of the key social debates that showcased this tension, accompanied by solid readings of pertinent novels... Goodlad accomplishes the worthy goal she sets herself: to offer an understanding of liberalism that is at once 'rigorous and expansive.'"

"This study offers frequently persuasive readings of literary texts in relation to Victorian attempts to reform poor relief, the civil service, sanitation, and education... It does an effective job of balancing literature and history so that detailed discussions of phenomena from those different realms cast light on each other."

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