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The Dream Life of Citizens

Late Victorian Novels and the Fantasy of the State

Zarena Aslami

Publication Year: 2012

Scholars have long argued that nations, as imagined communities, are constituted through the incitement of feelings and the operations of fantasy. Can we say the same about the set of disciplinary and regulatory institutions that we call the state? Can we think of it as constituted by feelings and fantasies, too? Zarena Aslami argues that late Victorian novels certainly did. Revisiting major works by Olive Schreiner, Thomas Hardy, and George Gissing, among others, Aslami shows how novels dramatized the feelings and fantasies of a culture that was increasingly optimistic, as well as increasingly anxious, about the state's capacity to "step in" and help its citizens achieve the good life. In this study of late Victorian culture, Aslami reveals how a historically specific and intriguing fantasy of the state was thought to animate citizens' psychic lives. This fantasy starred the modern state as a heroic actor with whom one has a relationship and from whom one desires something. While she tracks fantasies of the state in political writing, Aslami argues that novels were a privileged site for meditating on its more tragic implications.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

I have many people and institutions to thank for their support, inspiration, and generosity during the process of writing this book. First, my thanks go to Lauren Berlant, Elaine Hadley, and Elizabeth Helsinger for their advice and mentorship...

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pp. 1-25

It has become commonplace to think of the nation in terms of fantasy, but what about its less glamorous, less sentimentally charged other: the state? Following Benedict Anderson, literary and cultural scholars have written extensively about the affective obligations of the nation form and the role that fantasy plays in citizenship...

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1. An Imperial Origin Story

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pp. 26-44

Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm (1883) stages the origins of late Victorian state fantasy in the precarious and tenuous zone of empire. Set in South Africa from the 1860s to the 1880s, the novel dramatizes the grand historical shifts and events that profoundly shaped the last decades of the century. These...

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2 ‘‘Rather a Geographical Expression Than a Country’’

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pp. 45-84

In the previous chapter, I argued that Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm charted the psychic vicissitudes undergone by colonial subjects as the logic of biopower began to overtake that of sovereignty. In this chapter, I reverse the direction of my...

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3 The Rise of the State as a Sympathetic Liberal Subjectin Hardy’s The Woodlanders

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pp. 85-108

The British did not fantasize only about Scots and Afghans, of course. The middle classes, to be more specific, entertained a robust set of fantasies about the rural working classes within Britain. As scholars of regional literature and of modern European...

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4 The Space of OptimismState Fantasy and the Case of Gissing’s The Odd Women

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pp. 109-130

I now turn to a novel that is mainly set in the gridded center of the nation, London. The Odd Women (1893) may not seem like the most obvious of George Gissing’s novels to select for an investigation of late Victorian state power. Literary critics have tended to mine this exemplary New Woman novel for its sociological treatments...

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5 Hysterical Citizenship in Grand’sThe Heavenly Twins

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pp. 131-160

With their independent views about marriage, Lyndall, Grace, and Rhoda typify the New Woman, that late Victorian social and sexual icon. While they suffer excruciating disappointments and, in the case of Lyndall, even death, their narrators nevertheless...


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pp. 161-162


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pp. 163-170


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pp. 171-182


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pp. 183-191

E-ISBN-13: 9780823246601
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823241996
Print-ISBN-10: 0823241998

Page Count: 195
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 830023557
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Dream Life of Citizens

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Politics and literature -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • English fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Schreiner, Olive, 1855-1920. Story of an African farm.
  • Hardy, Thomas, 1840-1928. Woodlanders.
  • Gissing, George, 1857-1903. Odd women.
  • Grand, Sarah. Heavenly twins.
  • State, The, in literature.
  • Social problems in literature.
  • Afghanistan -- In literature.
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