First ReaderPalo Alto, California, August 2011
This work holds promise of significant contribution through new understanding of familiar material in an original, stimulating manner. The big-picture “stakes” are a shift in understanding of British literature and culture of the Victorian period, a repositioning involving comparison to 19th C. developments in other Western nations, notably France, and comparison to British developments in the early 20th C. At the heart of the promise is a field-modifying shift for literary-cultural study of Victorian Britain, while carrying implications for Modernism as well. For Horowitz, Victorians were propelled by the unprecedented mass, momentum, and major lift to general living standards of modern industrial advance to become proponents of progress and, as such, exponents of the modern. It follows that those usually named Modernists were actually at a remove, whether by place or time, from the modern and progressive thrust of British Victorian industrialism. They are best understood then as writing in reaction against the modern in their reaction against Victorianism and its ideology of progress.
In terms of contribution, Horowitz’s work makes a lesser claim to present new or little-known material in the 19th and early-20th C. literary texts it treats, while the scope of those texts is notably wide, the genre-span across novels, poetry, and hybrid forms like Carlyle’s is fresh, and the span of texts across national literatures and historical/literary periods is also freshplacing in relationship works by Tennyson and Baudelaire, and the modern in British Victorian texts, and what is typically called modern in Baudelaire and Joyce. Some key works discussed, such as Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, are offbeat, tending to enjoy more name-recognition or familiarity with excerpts only than deeper understanding, and others, like the turn-of-the-century utopian fiction of W.H. Hudson, are very little known. There is considerable scope to the literary readings themselves as they weave matters of form as well as content into interpretive analysis. Horowitz is an accomplished and engaging close reader. Page to page, he trusts most to this. As he states, he does not claim to offer much new historical material on industrialism itself, not in terms of details about industry. This may be a bit surprising given the keyword “Industrialism” in the work’s title. At the same time there is a serious bid to challenge and update the historical understanding of industrialism that prevails in literary-cultural studies of the Victorian period. This is pursued via new light from historians of which Victorianist literary scholars are too little aware. I think Horowitz is onto something important here, that is, in “Revisiting Industrialism”as he puts it in the title of his Introduction. In my opinion, he could do more to underscore the perspective he is “revisiting,” for a long time little open to change among literary Victorianists– namely, a dark and doubting view of industrialism. This would serve as better set-up for then underscoring the different view now taking shape among historical scholars of the period and its industrially-tied economics. For his research in the latter arena, his sources are quite substantive and timely as concerns the industrial revolution, attendant economic changes, and the lift to general living standards. This makes for a considerably brightened up sense of the Victorian period and opens up the possibility of a changed sense of Victorian literatureas possibly not so much a literature of dark broodings and critique of the times, but something more positive. Horowitz cites his historical sources more for broad generalizations than concrete detail, which is by and large workable. Still, it would help if these voices bringing new light to the subject from other disciplines, came through more emphatically, conveying more authority, and creating a stronger sense of the new in Horowitz’s cross-disciplinary application.
Horowitz offers an acceptable if not altogether standout command of recent research as to literary criticism/readings of particular literary texts. He makes a stronger showing in citations of 19th C. critical commentaries on literature. These often work very well.
Where his showing is weaker, and definitely needs strengthening, is in recent work among literary scholars relevant to big-picture trends in the field, which is where he himself can best hope to make a difference. I refer here to recent work with manifest bearing on Victorian literature and industrialism, that is, concerning industrialism as such, and concerning the economics of the period so much tied up with industrialism. Especially surprising and in need of remedy is Horowitz’s spotty and perfunctory citation of “new economic criticism” in the field, a vital and burgeoning critical arena featuring high-profile “leading lights” and exciting “new blood.” I will add that his showing needs strengthening in recent research in Victorian literary studies in a conceptual/theoretical/philosophical/ideological vein. I say that having in mind the 2nd keyword of his title, which is “Progress.” His intent is less to linger on details of industry or on direct, literal references to industry in Victorian literature than to examine an “ideology”his repeated termthat, he argues, takes great impetus from Victorian industrialism and finds powerful expression in Victorian literature. Namely, an ideology of progress. This is interesting, it is promising. But Horowitz’s conceptual/ideological discussions tend to be rather thin. True, and again interesting, he contends that it is the fact itself of industry, with the widespread advance it brought to the standard of living, that is the most important feeder of a progressive ideology. Yet he does attempt some closer conceptual/ideological characterization, which he is right to do. Occasionally he invokes theory, such that of Svetlana Boym that an ideology of nostalgia accompanies one of progress. He refers to Darwinism a number of times and, more repeatedly, to the political economist Malthus/capitalism/”creative destruction” (a phrase associated with capitalism)/ bourgeois ideas/individualism/Spencer. These reference clusters constitute identifiers of progress-oriented systems of thought in the period. (Horowitz refers to utilitarianism, too, but pretty much in passing.) However, in his treatment of these thought systems, there is limited precision and depth. Darwinian and political economic-capitalist theory actually have points of contact, but of the two the latter is most manifestly relevant to industrialism. Here again, better command of recent research in “new economic criticism,” supported by fuller, firmer grounding in Smith, Malthus, and Ricardian economics as expounded, say, by Mill, offers the most for better realization of the work’s purposes. Horowitz’s work is not, will not, and need not be primarily conceptually/theoretically-based. But it has a good way to go to shore itself up in that area. By doing so it can build on the recent scholarship of others (along the lines of building on recent historical commentary on industrialism and its economic dynamics as already discussed) to the benefit of its own contribution. And by benefit, I mean in terms of strengthening the merits of the case and strengthening its carrying power, its force of impact. I am outlining paths of revision that I see as requisite to success for a publication that specialists and professionals in the field would welcome.
Crosses the range, including excellent and good , but on balance hovers between adequate and inadequate. The inadequate aspect is very importantessentialto bring up. For explanation see #1.
The most unmistakable need is to do more with “new economic criticism,” supported by fuller, firmed-up conceptual/ideological grounding, especially vis a vis capitalism. This is for purposes of scholarly up-to-dateness, and credibility and of building on and/or contesting other relevant scholarship to increase the visibility and thrust of main ideas. It will also tie in with other recommended revisions to improve realization of the book’s promise of substantial, original contribution. To restate–a contribution not only to the study of particular authors and works, but to the field as a whole of Victorian literary-cultural studies, with implications for the Modernist field as well.I strongly recommend more serious engagement with Catherine Gallagher, The Body Economic, Life Death and Sensation in Political Economy and the Victorian Novel (2006), with Mary Poovey, Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value on 18th and 19th C. Britain (2008), and with Regenia Gagnier, The Insatiability of Human Wants: Economics and Aesthetics in Market Society (2000), and, in addition, engagement (now absent) with Kathleen Blake, Pleasures of Benthamism: Victorian Literature, Utility, Political Economy ((2010) (among other things this has extended discussion of Sartor Resartus, as does Horowitz’s study). Furthermore, some acknowledgement (now absent) of Patrick Brantlinger , Fictions of State: Culture and Credit in Britain 1694-1994 (1996) (inadequate/dated only to cite this major scholar’s 1977 Spirit of Reform: British Literature and Politics 1832-1867). Also, attention (now absent) to Elaine Freedgood, ed., Factory Production in 19th C. Britain (2003) (part of a series directed by Poovey); ditto Joseph Bizup: Manufacturing Culture: Vindications of Early Victorian Industry (2003); ditto Susan Zlotnick, Women, Writing, and the Industrial Revolution (1998), and along with this, attention to a few additional recent works bearing on Victorian literature and industrialism. Also, more serious engagement with Andrew Miller, The Burdens of Perfection (2008), and engagement (now absent) with Miller’s Novels behind Glass: Commodity Culture and Victorian Narrative (1995), and along with this, attention to some additional recent works bearing on Victorian literature and commodity culture. Also, some acknowledgement (now absent) of Phillip Connell, Romanticism, Economics, and the Question of ‘Culture’ (2001) (for historical reach backwards from the Victorian period). And it is probably useful to add –for due grounding in Adam Smith–Emma Rothschild, Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment (2001). Plus more than probably to add–for beefed up credibility on Malthus, who is often invoked but mostly just by namea citation of Malthus in the bibliography (that’s at the very least, better to do more re: Malthus). And it is probably worth adding David Ricardo to the bibliography, or at least knowledgeable reference to Ricardian economic concepts in the text.
Not a straight-across comparable for direct competition, but “new economic criticism” constitutes a vibrant, innovative approach in an arena where Horowitz’s work must also make its way. See also #1, 2,
In potential, major importance.
The literary style is clear, easy, and attractive, which is notable for a scholarly work. It should be possible to retain this asset, while at the same time placing main claims in heightened relief for increased urgency and impact. To a significant degree such heightening will depend on an expanded actuality and also and expanded display of scholarly rigor, credibility, and up-to-dateness, to be achieved via the text itself, via works cited in the bibliography, and via fleshed-out footnotes. The book creates an orderly impression. However, the organization as reflected in the chapter titles seems concerned more with a surface sense of good order than articulation of the deep structure of argument. To my mind, this sacrifices force of ideas to smooth flow. So here again I recommend revision. The Introduction bears the title “Revisiting Industrialism.” The “revisiting” idea is important, and the book stands to gain from due emphasis on it. It is worth increasing this emphasis in the Introduction itself, here and there in the chapters that follow, and at the end. “Revisiting” might be apt to include in the book’s overall title. In any event, the present title needs revision. It signals “Industrialism” and “Progress,” as it ought, but what about naming the period, Victorian? And, more secondarily, Modernism is at stake too, so there may be value and a way to work in some reference to the Modern. And what about signaling the fact that this is a literary study? That’s pretty obviously essential. See also #1, 2, 8.
Strongly recommend publication, if revisions are successfully made.
- Yes, very much so.
- See #1, 2, 5.
Largest purchase by libraries and specialist scholars. Of specialists, more in Victorian literary-cultural studies than 20th C. Modernism, but some of the latter.
Some purchase, can’t say substantial, by scholars in the discipline of history, particularly those interested in economic history relevant to industrialism.
May gain a positive level of assignment in graduate English Dept. courses in Victorian, to a lesser extent Modern, perhaps in selections. Given the literary style, more prospect than is often the case for scholarly work of assignment in undergraduate English Dept. Victorian and Modern courses, and perhaps extending to more general introductory/overview literature courses; plus, beyond English Dept. courses, perhaps extending to some undergraduate history courses and/or broad undergraduate humanities, general-education courses. Again if not in whole, in selections. Shot at marketing in paperback.
Hard to say for professionals outside academia. If the work is brought up to a level to earn wide reviews, there could be some readers with professional interest in literary-cultural history bearing on industry/economics, eg., in business, financial industry, law, public administration, politics. Here again, literary style is a plus.
Shot at interest to general readers, such as those of The New York Review of Books, New Yorker, major newspaper book review sections, etc. Again, if the work can earn wide reviews. And again, literary style a plus.
See also #5