The Pleasures of Benthamism: Victorian Literature, Utility, Political Economy

Hardcover | November 8, 2009

byKathleen Blake

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This book offers a fresh look at the often-censured but imperfectly understood traditions of Utilitarianism and political economy in their bearing for Victorian literature and culture. It treats writings by Jeremy Bentham, Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, James and John Stuart Mill,Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Rabindranath Tagore. It sets texts in historical context, examines style as well as ideas, and aims to widen awareness of commonalities across seemingly divided expressions of the age. A work of 'new economiccriticism,' it also treats Utilitarianism, close kin to political economy but even more poorly understood and poorly regarded. No other literary study addresses Bentham so fully. The book further contributes to study of Victorian literature-and-liberalism and Victorian liberalism-and-imperialism. Itchallenges a high-cultural perspective and a perspective of ideology-critique that derive from F. R. Leavis and Michel Foucault and inform the prevailing idea of Victorian literature: as contender against the repressive mentality of Mr. Gradgrind, Dickens's caricature of a Smith-Benthamite; againstthe 'carceral' social discipline of Bentham's Panopticon; and against the 'dismal science.' But 'utility' has the happier meaning of pleasure. This study presents a capitalist, liberal age pursuing utility in commerce, industry, and socioeconomic/political reforms; favorable to freedom; and'leveling' as regards gender and class. What about empire? a question not generally so squarely confronted in works on Victorian literature-and-economics and Victorian literature-and-liberalism. Shown here is the surprising extent to which liberalism develops as liberalism through 'liberalimperialism'.

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This book offers a fresh look at the often-censured but imperfectly understood traditions of Utilitarianism and political economy in their bearing for Victorian literature and culture. It treats writings by Jeremy Bentham, Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, James and John Stuart Mill,Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, Anthony Tro...

Kathleen Blake is Professor of English at the University of Washington, author of Play, Games, and Sport: The Literary Works of Lewis Carroll and Love and the Woman Question in Victorian Literature: The Art of Self-Postponement. She is editor of Approaches to Teaching George Eliot's Middlemarch and contributor to The Cambridge Compani...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:288 pagesPublished:November 8, 2009Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199563268

ISBN - 13:9780199563265

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Victorian Literature, Utility, Political Economy: The Case of Bleak House2. Pleasures of Benthamism - Utility, or, 'People mutht be amuthed': Bentham and Hard Times3. Pains - 'Work while it is called Today': Utility, Political Economy, Carlyle, and Trollope 130 Utility,Political Economy, Carlyle, and Trollope4. Pains - Capital versus the Gift in The Mill on the Floss5. 'On Liberty' and Laisser Faire6. Time and the Textile Industry: Gaskell and Tagore7. Utilitarian Political Economy and Empire: Mill as Liberal ImperialistConclusionReferences