The Global Migrations of George Eliot and Charles Dickens: Books, Newspapers, Archives

Poland, Matthew. The Global Migrations of George Eliot and Charles Dickens: Books, Newspapers, Archives. 2022. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This dissertation concerns the transnational circulation and remediation of texts by two canonical nineteenth-century authors, George Eliot and Charles Dickens, in the media forms of books, periodicals, newspapers, and archives. The dissertation argues that, in order to understand how Victorian literature has acted upon history and culture in its full global scope, the restrictive epistemological frameworks of “the nation” and “the novel” as a unitary organic whole must be abandoned in favor of a transnational media approach. This intervention expands current critical methodologies by showing the mutual illumination of media history and formalist and materialist literary criticism. The introduction theorizes the worldwide circulation of literary works as the migration of non-human agents, which takes place along the routes of capital and empire traversed by human agents and other non-human agents alike. The first chapter shows that, even as ideologies of liberal individualism were coalescing, two of Dickens’s most significant projects of the late 1840s — the serial version of Dombey and Son (1846-8) and the Cheap Edition of his novels (first series 1847-52) — preserve cultural memories of the liberal individual’s porousness as free-trade capitalism both caused wider circulation of people and commodities and troubled the apparently discrete solidity of nations, literary works, and the individual. Reading the Cheap Edition and Dombey and Son together shows how the economic imperatives of free-trade imperialism are materialized in literary objects and internalized into novelistic representation. Chapter two begins by tracing the transimperial periodical circulation of George Eliot’s Middlemarch (first serialized 1871-2), specifically as a roman feuilleton in Melbourne’s Australasian newspaper in 1872-3. The chapter argues that this circulation frames the novel’s geopolitical aesthetic, facilitating a rereading of the novel which focuses on the portability of cosmopolitan narration and the pastoral genre but the non-portability of an ethics of sympathy in the space of the British settler empire. The third chapter focuses on the constitution of the George Eliot archive at the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library at Yale University in order to investigate how institutional collecting practices shape the epistemological horizons of modern literary scholarship. Arguing that archival collecting practices are the pre-history of reception, the chapter shows how the priorities of scholars and librarians at Yale have framed the horizon of Victorian studies by downplaying Eliot’s poetry, which has contributed to the novel fixation of the discipline as a whole. The chapter concludes by reflecting on how understanding these archival histories allows us to imagine new futures for nineteenth-century literary studies.