- Hidden Rivalries in Victorian Fiction: Dickens, Realism, and Revaluation by Jerome Meckier, and: Hardy in History: A Study in Literary Sociology by Peter Widdowson (review)
- Victorian Review
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 16, Number 1, Summer 1990
- pp. 91-95
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Reviews91 (153) by American surgeon Richard Selzer, are explored in terms of the conditions which produce and reproduce them. Jordanova's contention that assumptions about, and images of, gender are constitutive of biomedical epistemology means that such statements are seen not only as "reflecting" or "pointing to" the oppression of women by science and medicine, but as part of a larger cultural process through which the biomedical sciences makes legible, and invests with meaning, both men's and women's bodies. Jordanova does not pay sufficient attention to the issue of whose "interests" are served by the representations of the human body she explores in Sexual Visions. Nevertheless, the questions she asks of those representations force us to acknowledge their central ideological function in the (re)production of authoritative definitions of sexual difference. Susan Hamilton University ofAlberta Jerome Meckier. Hidden Rivalries in Victorian Fiction: Dickens, Realkm, and Revaluation. Lexington: The UP of Kentucky, 1987. ? + 310. $29.00 US. Peter Widdowson. Hardy in History: A Study in Literary Sociology. London and New York: Routledge, 1989. xi + 260. $49.50 US. The recent reaction away from the New Critical idea that a literary text is an autonomous object has stimulated a great deal of interest in the process of literary reception. This takes diverse forms, two of which are illustrated by the books under review. Jerome Meckier's study sees literary history as the process by which writers reread and rewrite one another's works. Peter Widdowson undertakes a study of the reception of Hardy's fiction in order to try to free it from "the realist/humanist ideoaesthetic " (23) and to appropriate it for a form of criticism which "attempts to foster the consciousness necessary, at all levels of experience, to bring about radical social change" (198). Meckier's study is the less satisfactory of the two books, for it is hampered by a rigid insistence on a narrow view of the nature of literature, which is asserted as part of a sustained polemic against 92Victorian Review poststructuralist forms of reading. Meckier argues that we must study the way in which "Victorian novelists deliberately created competing worlds, each with its own vigorous idiom" (2). The conflict between these worlds results in the 'hidden rivalries" of the title: 'In a world increasingly relative . . . the goal was to establish one's credentials as a realist, hence a reliable social critic, by taking away someone else's—generally Dickens's" (2). Edwin Drood is regarded as Dickens's response to the critiques of Gaskell, Eliot, and Trollope, and to the appropriation of his techniques by Collins. Meckier makes a number of interesting observations about each of the novels he treats, for he is a close and imaginative reader of fictional texts. There are also a number of valuable passages, for instance a discussion of the way that Dickens, Eliot, and Trollope handle the issue of reform. However, several deficiencies limit the usefulness of the book. Meckier implies that he is providing a history of Victorian realistic fiction, but he deals only with a few major authors, and those only in relation to Charles Dickens. Thus Eliot's fiction is seen entirely as a response to Dickens; the importance of female traditions in her work, or her reaction to Thackeray, or her intellectual sources, are all ignored. Some of the interrelationships that Meckier constructs are improbable, especially since his rhetoric insists that they are the conscious intention of the authors. For example, when George Eliot secularizes Christianity in Middlemarch, we are told that she is parodying "the biblicist in Dickens for masquerading as a scientific sociologist" (224). It is far more likely that Eliot is writing out of her vast experience of higher criticism and the thought of Comte and Feuerbach; Middlemarch may produce the effect that Meckier asserts, but that is the product of his reading; it was hardly Eliot's intention. This raises one of the main methodological problems in the study. Meckier assumes that each of the novels he treats has a coherent world view which is self-evident to the right-thinking critic. This world is view also regarded as the result of the conscious intention of the author. Meckier thus...