Nineteenth-Century British Literature Then and Now : Reading with Hindsight book cover
1st Edition

Nineteenth-Century British Literature Then and Now
Reading with Hindsight

ISBN 9781138248731
Published August 26, 2016 by Routledge
192 Pages

USD $59.95

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Book Description

Envisioning today’s readers as poised between an impossible attempt to read texts as their original readers experienced them and an awareness of our own temporal moment, Simon Dentith complicates traditional prejudices against hindsight to approach issues of interpretation and historicity in nineteenth-century literature. Suggesting that the characteristic aesthetic attitude encouraged by the backward look is one of irony rather than remorse or regret, he examines works by Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, William Morris and John Ruskin in terms of their participation in significant histories that extend to this day. Liberalism, class, gender, political representation and notions of progress, utopianism and ecological concern as currently understood can be traced back to the nineteenth century. Just as today’s critics strive to respect the authenticity of nineteenth-century writers and readers who responded to these ideas within their historical world, so, too, do those nineteenth-century imaginings persist to challenge the assumptions of the present. It is therefore possible, Dentith argues, to conceive of the act of reading historical literature with an awareness of the historical context and of the difference between the past and the present while allowing that friction or difference to be part of how we think about a text and how it communicates. His book summons us to consider how words travel to the reality of the reader’s own time and how engagement with nineteenth-century writers’ anticipation of the judgements of future generations reveal hindsight’s capacity to transform our understanding of the past in the light of subsequent knowledge.

Table of Contents

1 The Ambivalence of Hindsight

2 Reading with Hindsight: The Nineteenth Century and the Twenty-First

3 The Mill on the Floss and the Social Space of Hindsight

4 'If I had known then, what I knew long afterwards! --': David Copperfield and the Ambivalence of Hindsight

5 Trollope and Political Realism

6 'The things that lead to life': Ruskin and Use-Value

7 Utopia Under the Sign of Hindsight

8 Writing with Hindsight: The Victorian Novel in Succeeding Centuries

Afterword: With the Benefit of Hindsight

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Simon Dentith is Professor of English at the University of Reading, UK. He has written widely on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, most recently in Epic and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Britain.


'All in all this is a thoughtful and wide-ranging contribution to our continuing critical and creative questions into the twenty-first century as to how we read, write and engage with the Victorians.' - Rosie Miles, The Journal of William Morris Studies

'Simon Dentith’s rewarding and critically stimulating book constitutes a major landmark in serious, fresh thinking about the massive issue of how to read literature in time. A remarkable achievement.' - Francis O’Gorman, University of Leeds, UK ’

'Dentith’s approach is exciting, provocative and rewarding. The potential vastness of the subject is handled elegantly, with each chapter tracing a different aspect of the complex negotiations of Victorian legacies, facilitated by lively analyses of textual content and historicized reception history ... Nineteenth-Century British Literature Then and Now is a rich meditation on a complex subject, brought to life by Simon Dentith’s lucid prose and thought-provoking examples. The ramifications for reception studies and literary criticism are significant, and the arguments for the continuing relevance and potency of Victorian literature compelling.' - Times Literary Supplement

'... Simon Dentith's lively new book comes as a welcome resource, one that breaks considerable new ground ...' Review of English Studies

'Dentith’s deft management of the cacophony of the nineteenth century and the twenty-first century and the intervening chaotic uproar of the twentieth century reveals throughout the text a keen scholastic ear for the lost or silenced voices in each century and an attempt to create a space in which the possibilities they held in the past or hold for the present and future can be heard and read.' - Rocky Mountain Review

'SHARP members should find this book of great interest, demonstrating as it does both erudition about a range of nineteenth-century writers, and a sense of how Victorian culture has inflected the work of recent novelists.' - SHARP News

 '... this is an argument for patient understanding against debunking, for authentic hindsight against facile knowledge.' - Key Words