Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 May 2010
Although “cosmopolitanism” is, in many respects, the recognized creation of the eighteenth century, in recent years the idea has made a mark on the theory and practice of Victorian studies. In this essay I offer some reflections on this development while suggesting one future path for a Victorianist cosmopolitan practice. My goal is to limn a theory of what I call “the Victorian geopolitical aesthetic” which, in grasping the globalizing dynamics of the nineteenth century, illuminates the literature and culture of that era. By way of doing so, I will explore cosmopolitan literary study as it has so far developed, describing its focus on ethics. I will also try to update the legacy of historical materialism (including the work of Georg Lukács, Raymond Williams, and Fredric Jameson) by integrating it with newer transnational perspectives such as cosmopolitanism and the new Atlantic studies. My aim is to suggest ways of reading Victorian literature – specifically realist fiction but potentially other genres as well – which recognize the power of literature to engage “actually existing cosmopolitanisms” then and now.