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7. Empire – Economy – Materiality

Nora Pleßke

Abstract

The rise of the novel during the eighteenth century is notably connected with the birth of a new socio-economic system. Extending that idea, this chapter links the formation of the novel as a dominant genre during the nineteenth century to the further development of capitalism, colonialism, and their concomitant social and material realities. Postcolonial theory, economic criticism, and material culture studies are introduced as central approaches to the novel in the Victorian era that bring to the fore new perspectives or revive neglected works. This chapter covers empire writing from the domestic novels of the first half of the century to the sensation fiction of the second half. Additionally, it concentrates largely on economic issues in Condition-of-England novels, such as the struggle of the working classes, the urban poor, and capital finance. A third section focusses on the representation of commodity culture and the profusion of things in the Victorian novel as related to the conjunction of capitalism and imperialism. In closing, the chapter contemplates the status of the nineteenth-century novel as a veritable commodity and thus as a symbol for the economic expansion of Britain during the Second Empire.

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