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4 - Subverting fictions: the counterrevolutionary form of the novel

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2009

Kevin Gilmartin
Affiliation:
California Institute of Technology
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Summary

The anti-Jacobin novel can seem by turns a curiously disengaged fictional enterprise or the most vexed and compelling of counterrevolutionary forms of expression. Disengaged, because by comparison with periodical and pamphlet literature the novel did not address popular radical protest in a sustained way, nor was it significantly integrated with counterrevolutionary organization. This is partly a matter of timing since, as M. O. Grenby has shown in an impressively detailed study, the anti-Jacobin novel was a relatively late entry in the controversies precipitated by the French Revolution, coming into its own towards the end of the 1790s and in the first decade of the nineteenth century with the appearance of dozens of titles with substantial counterrevolutionary themes, including works by Isaac D'Israeli, Elizabeth Hamilton, and Jane West, but then abating well before the intense radical reform agitation of the late 1810s. While programmatic loyalism was by no means absent in these years, and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and the emergence of a new generation of parliamentary reformers yielded acute new concerns, the first major phase of the controversy had clearly passed. In identifying the novels treated in this chapter as “anti-Jacobin,” I follow the common practice of recent scholarship, justified in part by the counterpoint between such fictions and the “Jacobin” novels of William Godwin, Thomas Holcroft, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Mary Hays, although I am sympathetic to scholars who object to both categories for sustaining a conservative tendency to mark all protest as foreign and extreme, and for eliding important distinctions among conservative novelists in particular.

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Writing Against Revolution
Literary Conservatism in Britain, 1790–1832
, pp. 150 - 206
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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