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Making a Social Body: British Cultural Formation, 1830-1864by Mary Poovey
Synopses & Reviews
With much recent work in Victorian studies focused on gender and class differences, the homogenizing features of 19th-century culture have received relatively little attention. In Making a Social Body, Mary Poovey examines one of the conditions that made the development of a mass culture in Victorian Britain possible: the representation of the population as an aggregate—a social body. Drawing on both literature and social reform texts, she analyzes the organization of knowledge during this period and explores its role in the emergence of the idea of the social body.
Poovey illuminates the ways literary genres, such as the novel, and innovations in social thought, such as statistical thinking and anatomical realism, helped separate social concerns from the political and economic domains. She then discusses the influence of the social body concept on Victorian ideas about the role of the state, examining writings by James Phillips Kay, Thomas Chalmers, and Edwin Chadwick on regulating the poor. Analyzing the conflict between Kay's idea of the social body and Babbage's image of the social machine, she considers the implications of both models for the place of Victorian women. Poovey's provocative readings of Disraeli's Coningsby, Gaskell's Mary Barton, and Dickens's Our Mutual Friend show that the novel as a genre exposed the role gender played in contemporary discussions of poverty and wealth.
Making a Social Body argues that gender, race, and class should be considered in the context of broader concerns such as how social authority is distributed, how institutions formalize knowledge, and how truth is defined.
Book News Annotation:
In eight essays composed over five years for various specific purposes, Poovey (English, Johns Hopkins U.) emphasizes that though a homogenous British national identity was proclaimed by 1830, several competing cultural strains persisted within the kingdoms. She considers the production of abstract space, curing the social body, the sublime revolution in government, homosociality and the psychological, among other aspects. Paper edition (unseen), $12.95.
Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Poovey examines one of the conditions that made the development of a mass culture in Victorian Britain possible: the representation of the population as an aggregate — a social body. Drawing on both literature and social reform texts from Victorian Britain, Poovey presents a compelling argument that gender, race, and class should be considered in the context of broader concerns such as how social authority is distributed, how institutions formalize knowledge, and how truth is defined.
About the Author
Mary Poovey is Samuel Rudin University Professor of the Humanities and professor of English at New York University. Her two most recent books, A History of the Modern Fact and Genres of the Credit Economy, examine the emergence of the modern disciplines. Her history of the modern financial model, co-authored with Kevin R. Brine, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.
Table of Contents
1: Making a Social Body: British Cultural Formation, 1830-1864
2: The Production of Abstract Space
3: Curing the Social Body in 1832: James Phillips Kay and the Irish in Manchester
4: Anatomical Realism and Social Investigation in Early Nineteenth-Century Manchester
5: Thomas Chalmers, Edwin Chadwick, and the Sublime Revolution in Nineteenth-Century Government
6: Domesticity and Class Formation: Chadwick's 1842: Sanitary Report
7: Homosociality and the Psychological: Disraeli, Gaskell, and the
8: Speculation and Virtue in Our Mutual Friend
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