Fiction as history : an examination of the ideological content of the 19th century novel of manners, with a case study of the portrayal of the ruling class in Anthony Trollope's novels
This essay begins by claiming that much conventional usage of fictional literature as historical evidence is inadequate. Rejecting any view of literature as passive 'reflector' of reality, it suggests that literature should be seen as an active cultural product. To develop this idea, several areas of cultural and literary theory are addressed: literature is seen as functioning within the overall context of written and spoken language: as part of an ideological system continuously concerned with its own production and reproduction. The example of mid-Victorian Britain is used to illustrate this assertion. The place of reading and writing within sections of this society are examined. They are seen to be the context of a literary culture based around the periodical press: fictions are examined as part of that literary culture. Fictional literature is thus seen as a connected part of a system whose functioning was to produce and reproduce the culture and ideology of the time, and specifically with the ideological compromise between traditional aristocratic/gentry and middle class cultures which occurred at that time. The final chapter summarises the essay itself and comments on recent literature in the field of Victorian history. It demonstrates the need for a history of ideological change which examines, as here, the mechanisms producing that change, claiming that such study would not only inform history, but would be of much use in understanding current major social problems. The final claim illustrates the originality of an investigation whose approach both to cultural theory and to cultural history is, while comparable with much current work in the field of cultural studies, of itself unique in both subject-matter and emphasis.