The Affective Life of the Average Man

The Victorian Novel and the Stock-Market Graph

Audrey Jaffe

Victorian Critical Interventions


Literary Criticism/European/English
138 pp. 6x9

$26.95 paper 978-0-8142-5171-3
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The author recommends the following links:

“In a Data-Heavy Society, Being Defined by the Numbers,” The New York Times (April 22, 2011)

“Illustrating Your Life in Graphs and Charts,” The New York Times (April 20, 2011)


“Audrey Jaffe’s timely, provocative book maps cultural and psychological transactions between individual feeling, or identity, and representations taken to be reflections of collective feeling: statistical averages and stock market graphs, but also, more complexly, novels. . . . [It] invites us to develop more nuanced ways of understanding how statistics and the novel informed each other and the ways in which individuals’ partial identifications with collective representations constitute an important ‘Victorianism we didn’t know was there.’” —Victorian Studies

The Affective Life of the Average Man turns on its head the idea that human subjects are the sources of their own emotions. Instead, Audrey Jaffe’s superb book brings its readers to an unsettling realization that anxiety, happiness, and other feelings are given to us from the outside—by the mass media and social science, as well as by realist fiction, and in the ubiquitous form of the graph. Brilliantly conceived and masterfully executed, this study of narrative and economics grows more pertinent by the day.” —William A. Cohen, professor of English, University of Maryland

“A graphic (literally) and gripping history of something like the origins of the regular guy, The Affective Life of the Average Man will be an important book for anyone working in Victorian Studies and narrative theory, and anyone interested in the study of literary character, in the burgeoning field of affect studies and in the idea of the ‘average’ as we plot our courses around it now.” —Elaine Freedgood, professor of English, New York University

What do the Victorian novel and the stock-market graph have in common? In The Affective Life of the Average Man: The Victorian Novel and the Stock-Market Graph, Audrey Jaffe explores the influence on modern subjectivity of an economic and emotional discourse constructed by both the Victorian novel and the stock market. The book shows how the novel and the market define character as fundamentally vicarious, and how the graphs, tickers, and pulses that represent the stock market function for us, as the novel did for the Victorians, as both representation and source of collective expectations and emotions. A rereading of key Victorian texts, this volume is also a rereading of the relation between Victorian and contemporary culture, describing the way contemporary accounts of such phenomena as frauds, bubbles, and the economics of happiness reproduce Victorian narratives and assumptions about character.

Jaffe draws on the work of nineteenth- and twentieth-century economic and political theorists, popular discourse about the stock market, and novelistic representations of emotion and identity to offer new readings of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Anthony Trollope’s The Prime Minister, and Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield and Little Dorrit. Charting a new understanding of the relation between money, emotions, and identity, The Affective Life of the Average Man makes a significant contribution to Victorian studies, economic criticism, and the study of the history and representation of emotion.

Audrey Jaffe is professor of English at the University of Toronto.