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Novel Professions

Interested Disinterest and the Making of the Professional in the Victorian Novel

Jennifer Ruth

“Novel Professions is filled with dazzling insights, careful readings, and lucid argumentation. It is original and substantial and offers a new way to consider the role of professions in establishing definitions of value in Victorian literature.” —John Plotz, author of The Crowd: British Literature and Public Politics

Between 1840 and 1860, the emergent professional developed a sturdy and compelling identity and saw explosive growth in its ranks over the next two decades. Novel Professions showcases the Victorian novel’s central and critically misunderstood role in this development. Taking a revisionary turn on influential sociological analyses of the profession, Novel Professions offers a new way of reading the last twenty years in Victorian studies. Jennifer Ruth argues that a shrinking academic market has confronted critics with an unprecedented pressure to professionalize, generating an ironized climate in which the Foucauldian outing of the expert class (and of its idealized “disinterest”) has become an irresistible and now stubbornly entrenched ritual. In this atmosphere, scholars have seen the novel as disingenuously reinforcing the complacent opposition between professional disinterest and market values. Ruth finds instead that the mid-century novel figured the professional as negotiating a less mystified, more intimate relationship to the market, one that acknowledged the material conditions making professional service at once more possible and more plausible.

In readings of novels by Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope, Ruth not only demonstrates how the novel professionalized its protagonists but how, in doing so, it advanced modern conceptions of aesthetic value and intellectual labor. Novel Professions proposes that when scholars stop loathing themselves for being professionals, they may better interpret the Victorian novel and more productively reconceive their own precarious place on the brink of deprofessionalization.

Jennifer Ruth is assistant professor of English Literature at Portland State University in Oregon.

Feb 2006
Literary Criticism/European/English
192 pp. 6x9

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Victorian Critical Interventions

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