The Semi-Detached Provincial Novel


English Victorian provincial novels can be distinguished from their Continental peers by the important role that the idea of semi-detachment plays in novelists ranging from Gaskell and Trollope to Eliot and even Hardy. Semi-detached provincial novels explore the seemingly paradoxical process whereby local attachments can abet rather than thwart the experience of detached contemplation. The result—reflecting the importance of provincial experience as a template for an everyday Englishness crucial to emerging notions of national "culture"—is a striking formal congruence between the experience of semi-detachment understood to define a fully realized provincial life and the sort of semi-detached relationship the reader is meant to have to the text itself. Rather than a triumph of the local over the cosmopolitan, this is a fascinating version of magnum in parvo, whereby the provinces are desirable for their capacity to be at once a trivial nowhere and a conceptual everywhere.