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Novel Aspirations: Social Imperialism and the Remaking of the English Working Class, 1848-1914
  • Wednesday, April 19, 2023 - 2:00pm to 4:30pm

FBH Faculty Lounge

This dissertation describes the symbolic rewriting of class antagonism during the high noon of British imperialism. Examining both working-class writing and canonical works through longstanding debates within English Marxism, and through more recent debates within postcolonial studies and novel theory, this study argues that the cultural imperatives of empire change in the period of Britain’s dual-reinvention as a mass democracy and a massively expanded imperial regime (1848-1914). More specifically, it assembles and investigates the literary history of a half-forgotten yet significant term, social imperialism: the use of imperial structures to mitigate social unrest within the metropole. Reading the works of Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Billington, Jessie Fothergill, G. A Henty, Thomas Hardy, George Gissing, Ethel Carnie and James Hanley, the dissertation tracks the widespread recasting of the Victorian novel’s legendarily sympathetic imagination from the Condition-of-England debates to the First World War. Through readings of the spaces, styles, formal and generic prerogatives of poetry and prose, the dissertation understands Condition-of-England fiction, working-class poetry, historical fiction, boys adventure novels, imperial romance, and working-class modernism as an ensemble shot through with trans-Atlantic and inter-colonial material. Keeping centrally in view empire and the social problems of the industrial class system—two objects of attention that have come to seem mutually exclusive in Victorian and modernist studies—the dissertation hopes to contribute to the wider reassessment of high and low Victorian literary culture.

Committee:  Emily Steinlight (chair), Jed Esty, Paul Saint-Am

Public portion starts 2pm in FBH English Faculty Lounge (3340 Walnut St, Fisher-Bennett Hall rm 135) or via zoom at, followed by a reception at 3.