Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 December 2011
A primary function of the trope of the moment is to provide a window into an obscured human immanence. Here, and in the following chapter, I describe this trope and its prominence in mid-Victorian urban fiction. The emotional register of this trope varies widely across these novels and stories in accordance with their individual styles. But they all offer versions of a similar concept: one way to shatter the façade of indifference in urban society socially is through the magic of a moment.
The chapter begins with Thomas Peckett Prest’s penny dreadful, The String of Pearls, arguing for its status as an allegory of socialist economics. Prest’s penny blood is one of the first fictional texts after industrialization to encourage a hermeneutic in addition to a sensory-based response to the figure of the moment. The chapter then turns to another work of working-class fiction, Ernest Jones’s “The Tradesman’s Daughter,” a story that brings together the subjects of modern work, modern time, literature, and love. The story is worth considering because it integrates into its form the temporal bifurcation of capitalism. It thus anticipates a strategy of more prestigious novels of the later nineteenth century, a strategy that Georg Lukács identifies with “romantic disillusionment.” Prest Gothicizies the intersubjective moment of humanism while Jones transforms it into a paradox. But in their different ways they insist upon the trope’s socioeconomic conditions – conditions that are vestigially present when the trope is used by Dickens, Eliot, or later by Conrad.