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The construction of history as a social common denominator is a powerful achievement of the nineteenth-century novel: a form dedicated to experimenting with democratic social practice as it conflicts with economic and fuedal visions of social order. Through revisionary readings of familiar nineteenth-century texts, The English Novel in History 1840-1895 takes a multidisciplinary approach to literary history. It highlight how narrative shifts from one construction of time to another and reformulates fundamental ideas of identity, nature, and society.
Elizabeth Ermarth discusses the range of novels alongside other cultural material, including painting, science, religious, political and economic theory. She explores the problems of how a society, as defined in democratic terms, can accommodate political, gender and class differences without resorting to hierarchy; and how narrowly conceived economic agendas complete with social cohesion.