Reader’s ReportBaltimore, Maryland, April 2011
The goal of Industrialism as Progress seems to be to widen our conception of what constitutes industrial literature, and to expand our concept of industrialism to include the idea of progress. The first goal I found extremely interesting and provocative, and I was piqued by the idea that many of us have simply taken the idea of industrialism and industrialization for granted without enough inquiry into what these terms mean and what they might include. The second goal is already part of our standard knowledge of industrialism: of course it was part of progress, the question always being how much and on what terms it can and could be tolerated. So the book gets off on an odd footing, arguing with critics like Andrew H. Miller as if his views, which are critical of commodity culture, a critique he believes many Victorian novelists also conducted in various forms, constitute a long-standing hegemony. Indeed, the liberal position in the Victorian period, like the liberal and conservative positions in our own, favored industrialization and industrialism at a very high costthis is evident not only in the writing of David Ricardo, James Mill, and Harriet Martineau, but also in that of many literary writers, like Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot.
The manuscript, however, only actually address questions of industrialism from a very great distance, with huge generalizations about poverty and the need for new social relationsgeneralizations that no scholar in the field needs to hear, and that are too simplistic for students. This book is about progress, very loosely and generally construed. It reads like a series of lectures for the general public, with very little engagement with critics, historians, or theorists. Indeed, Horowitz is neither formalist nor historicist, but thematic in a deeply 1950’s kind of way. Some of Horowitz’s local readings are very fine, but they are disconnected from the contemporary field of literary study.
Perhaps this book could be marketed to a general audience. In that case, it might be retitled, shortened considerably, and its historical issues made more distinct, chapter by chapter. It is certainly not a scholarly book, nor could it become one without being entirely recast around a much more specific idea or set of ideas, with much more engagement with current debates in history, literary criticism and literary theory. The escape from the Malthusian Trap was neither universal nor sudden; realism can’t be discussed with reference to a total of three critics, and virtually no recent criticism is engaged in any chapter save the one Eliot (and there, as I’ve noted, three critics get a mention). Historically, the book is absolutely anemic, especially given its apparently historical frame. To refer to industrialization as the “biggest change in millennia” is not illuminating at this juncture.
Even as a book for a general audience, though, the author needs to provide specific examples of economic distress, of industrial change, of progress in its many nineteenth- and early twentieth-century guises. There is a lot of cliché in this manuscript, and a lot of portentous pronouncement”what Tennyson really means…”. Horowitz would do well to think outside the beaten track of the debates he is engaging, and provide something new in terms of industrialism as a promising movement to those living through its thrills, achievements, and horrors. He might even go so far as to consult some of the authors he cites in the introduction: Joseph Bizup in particular, has written a really interesting book on “industrial culture” and Horowitz should not only read it carefully, he should read what Bizup has read to give his book some nuance. There is a huge literature of industrial tourism, of industrial processes etc. This literature could be put into dialogue with the very traditional readings of the canonical texts of this study to create some new insights, perhaps, into the idea of progress Horowitz discusses only in the most general terms. This would also make the book more interesting, I think, to a general readership.