Reader’s ReportColumbus, Ohio, January 2012
Argument: as the title suggests the ms redefines the term “industrialism” to mean “progress.” The text then argues that the idea of progress informs the work of major Victorian writers, with chapters devoted to Carlyle, Tennyson, George Eliot, William Morris, and to writers generally classified as modern including Baudelaire and James Joyce. In these writers, progress is shown as having both a positive and negative meaning. The text wants to show how attention to this mixed sense of progress illuminates the work of these writers.
there are a number of problems with this argument. For one, to redefine industrialism as progress is to drain the term industrialism of its meaning as an ongoing process of technological innovations set within an economic system and a set of cultural values. The work might just have been termed “Progress.” The word does not refer to the literary effects of the new technologies of the time.
That the idea of Progress is central to the period is a commonplace of historical criticism. Then too, the thesis that these writers held both a positive and negative sense of the idea of progress is similarly commonplace. Thus the general argument adds nothing to our understanding of the period and the writers. (I have more specific comments below.). The text basically retells a received view of the period, without attention to the constant modification of this view in the ongoing critical discourse. Furthermore, the discussion of the individual authors often does not relate to nor develop this thesis, but often moves to somewhat random explications of specific texts.
Audience: It is difficult to tell the audience. The work is not of use to professional scholars and critics because, as noted above, it does not add to the ongoing critical discourse. Nor would the work be of interest to the general reader as it moves between easy generalizations and detailed readings of individual texts.
Scholarship: Even though the author has widely (sic), the scholarship is not sound. In general, the scholarly agenda has passed beyond the examination of the notion of progress to new concerns. In many cases, as in the discussion of the idea of realism where the text cites criticism, the understanding of the issues is not theoretically sophisticated. Nor does the text indicate knowledge of the received readings of works, e.g. of the poem central to the argument, Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” The author often attacks straw men. And the text recapitulates rather aged issues, such as the place of community in Eliot’s Middlemarch.
Writing: The writing is not persuasive. In an effort to move beyond the dry as dust style of professional critics, the author adopts a style that is often condescending. Nor does the style have the vigor to attract a general audience.
Final Reaction: For the reasons cited above, I do not recommend publication. Given the problems of the text such as the vague generalizations, the assertion of outmoded ideas as new perceptions, and the rehearsal of old arguments, I do not think th ems can be reworked into an acceptable form for the press.