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Reform Acts
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Reform Acts offers a new approach to prominent questions raised in recent studies of the novel. By examining social agency from a historical rather than theoretical perspective, Chris R. Vanden Bossche investigates how particular assumptions involving agency came into being. Through readings of both canonical and noncanonical Victorian literature, he demonstrates that the Victorian tension between reform and revolution framed conceptions of agency in ways that persist in our own time. Vanden Bossche argues that Victorian novels sought to imagine new forms of social agency evolving from Chartism, the dominant working-class movement of the time. Novelists envisioned alternative forms of social agency by employing contemporary discourses from Chartism's focus on suffrage as well as the means through which it sought to obtain it, such as moral versus physical force, land reform, and the cooperative movement. Each of the three parts of Reform Acts begins with a chapter that analyzes contemporary conversations and debates about social agency in the press and in political debate. Succeeding chapters examine how novels envision ways of effecting social change, for example, class alliance in Barnaby Rudge; landed estates as well as finely graded hierarchy and politicians in Coningsby and Sybil; and reforming trade unionism in Mary Barton and North and South. By including novels written from a range of political perspectives, Vanden Bossche discovers patterns in Victorian thinking that are easily recognized in today’s assumptions about social hierarchy.

Table of Contents

  1. Cover
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  1. Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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  1. Contents
  2. pp. vii-viii
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  1. Acknowledgments
  2. pp. ix-x
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  1. 1. Social Agency: The Franchise, Class Discourse, and National Narratives
  2. pp. 1-18
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  1. Part I. Making Physical Force Moral: The Dilemma of Chartism, 1838–1842
  2. pp. 19-20
  1. 2. Social Agency in the Chartist and Parliamentary Press
  2. pp. 21-36
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  1. 3. Egalitarian Chivalry and Popular Agency in Wat Tyler
  2. pp. 37-49
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  1. 4. Unconsummated Marriage and the “Uncommitted” Gunpowder Plot in Guy Fawkes
  2. pp. 50-59
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  1. 5. Class Alliance and Self-Culture in Barnaby Rudge
  2. pp. 60-72
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  1. Part II. “The Land! The Land! The Land!”: Land Ownership as Political Reform, 1842–1848
  2. pp. 73-74
  1. 6. Agricultural Reform, Young England’s Allotments, and the Chartist Land Plan
  2. pp. 75-84
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  1. 7. The Landed Estate, Finely Graded Hierarchy, and the Member of Parliament in Coningsby and Sybil
  2. pp. 85-101
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  1. 8. Agricultural Improvement and the Squirearchy in Hillingdon Hall
  2. pp. 102-112
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  1. 9. The Land Plan, Class Dichotomy, and Working-Class Agency in Sunshine and Shadow
  2. pp. 113-126
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  1. Part III. The Social Turn: From Chartism to Cooperation and Trade Unionism, 1848–1855
  2. pp. 127-128
  1. 10. Christian Socialism and Cooperative Association
  2. pp. 129-141
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  1. 11. Clergy and Working-Class Cooperation in Yeast and Alton Locke
  2. pp. 142-163
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  1. 12. Reforming Trade Unionism in Mary Barton and North and South
  2. pp. 164-188
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  1. Coda: Rethinking Reform in the Era of the Second Reform Act, 1860–1867
  2. pp. 189-200
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  1. Notes
  2. pp. 201-232
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  1. Works Cited
  2. pp. 233-244
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  1. Index
  2. pp. 245-254
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