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Populating the NovelLiterary Form and the Politics of Surplus Life$
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Emily Steinlight

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781501710704

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: January 2022

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501710704.001.0001

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Political Animals

Political Animals

The Victorian City, Demography, and the Politics of Creaturely Life

(p.74) Chapter 2 Political Animals
Populating the Novel

Emily Steinlight

Cornell University Press

This chapter highlights the early Victorian era and focuses on the city as a key site for the administration of mass life. The chapter takes up a formal problem revealed by realist fiction and social science. With different aims, the two overlap to produce a heterogeneous genre that might be called mass writing. Such writing serves as a heuristic for understanding why population, central as it is, becomes incoherent as a category — why it transmutes not only into other formations, including race, class, nation, and species but also, and above all, into a degraded remainder of itself. Contrasting the cliché that fiction personalizes while social science aggregates, the chapter finds industrial fiction contributing to a mode of mass writing that proliferated alongside quantitative population analysis. Ultimately, the chapter examines the relation between population and class. It discusses Friedrich Engels's study of working-class environments, Henry Mayhew's taxonomy of casual labor in London, and Elizabeth Gaskell's classic industrial novel Mary Barton.

Keywords:   early Victorian era, mass life, mass writing, population, realist fiction, Friedrich Engels, Henry Mayhew, working-class environment, casual labor, Mary Barton

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