Acts of Modernity: The Historical Novel and Effective Communication, 1814–1901 (Hardback) book cover

Acts of Modernity

The Historical Novel and Effective Communication, 1814–1901

By David Buchanan

© 2016 – Routledge

224 pages

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Hardback: 9781472425560
pub: 2017-09-20
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About the Book

National literatures of the nineteenth century are typically studied in terms of the nationality of the author, but what people actually read in countries such as Scotland, France, America, and Canada often originated beyond national borders. Examining popular historical novels by Walter Scott, Honoré de Balzac, James Fenimore Cooper, and Philippe-Ignace-Francois Aubert de Gaspé in terms of their production for both upmarket and downmarket audiences, David Buchanan foregrounds the tension between reading matter that is valued for its supposed artistry, enduring value, and cultural impact, and those works that are dismissed as entertainment, due to format, content, price, and readership. As Buchanan underscores, a wide gulf remains between the designations "literature" and "popular literature" within the academy and elsewhere. He argues that this gulf is exacerbated by the reluctance to consider national literatures from a material and historical perspective that includes downmarket print, popular adaptations, and transnational dissemination. Tracing the varied print histories of four novels considered to be major literary works within and beyond their national contexts, Buchanan situates his own analysis of each work within a larger discussion of century-long changes in the novelistic use of historicity to describe and direct the shape and progress of the nation state.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents



  1. Meaning-Making: A History of Reading Practices
  2. Heart of the Matter: Consequences of Modernity in Clan Albin and Tales of My Landlord
  3. Nation of Readers: Chapbook Versions of The Heart of Mid-Lothian
  4. How the West Was One: Historification from Waverley to The Pathfinder
  5. Home and Away: Leatherstocking Reinvented in America and France
  6. "Spiders in a Pot": Harnessing Juggernaut in Le père Goriot
  7. Industrial Productions: From Editions populaires to a People’s History
  8. Community Lessons: Canadian Tales of National Progress
  9. History in Action: Dramatizations at Montréal, Paris, New York, and London

Conclusion: Working the Historical Novel


About the Author

David Buchanan is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University and an Instructor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, Canada.

About the Series

Ashgate Series in Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Studies

Ashgate Series in Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Studies

Focusing on the long nineteenth century (ca. 17501900), this series offers a forum for the publication of scholarly work investigating the literary, historical, artistic, and philosophical foundations of transatlantic culture. A vital field of interdisciplinary investigation, transatlantic scholarship contextualizes its objects of study in relation to exchanges, interactions, and negotiations that occurred between and among authors and other artists hailing from both sides of the Atlantic. As a result, transatlantic research calls into question established disciplinary boundaries that have long functioned to segregate various national or cultural literatures and art forms, challenging as well the traditional academic emphasis upon periodization and canonization. By examining representations dealing with such topics as travel and exploration, migration and diaspora, slavery, aboriginal culture, revolution, colonialism and anticolonial resistance, the series offers new insights into the hybrid or intercultural basis of transatlantic identity, politics, and aesthetics. Please note, this series is done commissioning and will no longer be taking submissions.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Historiography
HISTORY / Modern / General
HISTORY / Modern / 19th Century
LITERARY CRITICISM / Modern / 19th Century
LITERARY CRITICISM / Subjects & Themes / General
LITERARY CRITICISM / Subjects & Themes / Historical Events
LITERARY CRITICISM / Subjects & Themes / Politics