How Novels Think: The Limits of Individualism from 1719-1900

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Columbia University Press, Mar 7, 2006 - Literary Criticism - 224 pages
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Nancy Armstrong argues that the history of the novel and the history of the modern individual are, quite literally, one and the same. She suggests that certain works of fiction created a subject, one displaying wit, will, or energy capable of shifting the social order to grant the exceptional person a place commensurate with his or her individual worth. Once the novel had created this figure, readers understood themselves in terms of a narrative that produced a self-governing subject.

In the decades following the revolutions in British North America and France, the major novelists distinguished themselves as authors by questioning the fantasy of a self-made individual. To show how novels by Defoe, Austen, Scott, Brontë, Dickens, Eliot, Hardy, Haggard, and Stoker participated in the process of making, updating, and perpetuating the figure of the individual, Armstrong puts them in dialogue with the writings of Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Malthus, Darwin, Kant, and Freud. Such theorists as Althusser, Balibar, Foucault, and Deleuze help her make the point that the individual was not one but several different figures. The delineation and potential of the modern subject depended as much upon what it had to incorporate as what alternatives it had to keep at bay to address the conflicts raging in and around the British novel.

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How Novels Think
1 How the Misfit Became a Moral Protagonist
2 When Novels Made Nations
3 Why a Good Man Is Hard to Find in Victorian Fiction
4 The Polygenetic Imagination
5 The Necessary Gothic

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About the author (2006)

Nancy Armstrong is chair of the English department and Nancy Duke Lewis Professor of Comparative Literature, English, Modern Culture and Media, and Gender Studies at Brown University. She is the author of several books including, Fiction in the Age of Photography: The Legacy of British Realism and Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel.

Nancy Armstrong is the Nancy Duke Lewis Professor at Brown University, a position she has held since 1992. She teaches in the departments of Comparative Literature, English, and Modern Culture and Media, as well as in the Gender Studies Program, and is currently serving as Chair of the English department. She has authored any number of articles on 18th and 19th-century fiction and culture, feminism, and cultural theory. She has served as Managing Editor of the journal NOVEL since coming to Brown. In addition to two collections of essays, she has published three books: Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (Oxford UP, 1987), The Imaginary Puritan: Literature, Intellectual Labor, and the Origins of Personal Life, with Leonard Tennenhouse (U California P, 1992), and Fiction in the Age of Photography: The Legacy of British Realism (Harvard UP, 1999).

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