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Victorian Atlantis: Drowning, Population, and Property in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

McCauley, Alex. Victorian Atlantis: Drowning, Population, and Property in the Nineteenth-Century Novel. 2020. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This strange document examines drowning, floods, and property in the nineteenth-century novel. Its four chapters are organized around four particular images: drowned corpses, liquefying crowds, sunken cities, and swamps. I read the drowned first as a neglected nineteenth-century population, visible only when looking back and forth between many different texts. They are united not through a shared origin, territory, class, race or ethnicity but through a shared ending in the abyss. The second chapter is a different take on population, looking at liquefying crowds, waves of people, floods of workers. These common metaphors offer a new way to approach nineteenth-century degeneration theory and, as well, a reconsideration of interpretive debates regarding surface reading. The second half of the dissertation discusses flood and property. There is a tendency in the nineteenth century to look at the city and see it threatened by flood or already sunk into the ocean. I call this hydroscopic vision and discuss the strange conditions in which a flooded city can look like utopia. The final chapter turns to the fear of swamps in nineteenth-century literature, and the surprising consensus among otherwise contrary figures that swamps were useless, needing to be drained and turned into profitable land.

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