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The Crowd

British Literature and Public Politics

John Plotz (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 275 pages
ISBN: 9780520219175
December 2000
$31.95, £23.95
Between 1800 and 1850, political demonstrations and the tumult of a ballooning street life not only brought novel kinds of crowds onto the streets of London, but also fundamentally changed British ideas about public and private space. The Crowd sets out to demonstrate the influence of these new crowds, riots, and demonstrations on the period's literature. John Plotz offers compelling readings of works by Thomas De Quincey, Thomas Carlyle, William Wordsworth, Maria Edgeworth, and Charlotte Bronte, arguing that new "representative" crowds became a potent rival for the representational claims of literary texts themselves. As rivals in representation, these crowds triggered important changes not simply in how these authors depicted crowds, but in their notions of public life and privacy in general.

The Crowd is the first book devoted to an analysis of crowds in British literature. In addition to this being a noteworthy and innovative contribution to literary criticism, it addresses ongoing debates in political theory on the nature of the public-political realm and offers a new reading of the contested public discourses of class, nation, and gender. In the end, it provides a sophisticated and rich analysis of an important facet of the beginning of the modern age.
John Plotz is Assistant Professor of English at the Johns Hopkins University.
"This book studies the historical emergence of a certain kind of politicized crowd with an originality and a brilliance that will make it the definitive work on the crowd in nineteenth-century literature."—John Kucich, author of Repression in Victorian Fiction: Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Charles Dickens and The Power of Lies: Transgression in Victorian Fiction.

"This book will spark a great deal of debate, and debate of a far-reaching and desirable kind--perhaps even the sort of debate that has followed the similarly ambitious, paradigm-shifting work of people like D.A. Miller and Mary Poovey." —Bruce Robbins, author of The Servant's Hand: English Fiction from Below and Secular Vocation: Intellectuals, Professionalism, Culture.

"What a pleasure to read a skilled literary critic who has not only studied classic literary representations of crowds with sensitivity but also grounded them firmly in the actual political history that nurtured and received those representations! John Plotz has built a bridge where only slippery stepping stones existed."—Charles Tilly, author of Popular Contention in Great Britain, 1758-1834

"John Plotz’s important new book finds a fascinating point of entry into recent cultural histories of Britain. Plotz brings a keen literary eye to the aesthetics of the early nineteenth-century new mass presence, tracking the crowd through a variety of salient texts as it imprinted itself on the discursive environment of the metropolis. His adept exploration of the new field of collective meanings linking street, citizenry, and nation adds valuably to the growing literature on the public sphere."—Geoff Eley, author of Remembering the Future

"John Plotz has revived one of the most important topics in nineteenth-century studies and radically reconceived it. He demonstrates that Victorian perceptions of the crowd broke decisively with earlier notions, inaugurating a tradition of interpreting popular demonstrations as symptomatic of much deeper meanings than they ostensibly expressed. He shows how important the deployment and interpretation of bodies became in the era's political imagination." —Catherine Gallagher, author of

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