The Birkbeck Forum for Nineteenth-Century Studies offers a space in which to share the latest interdisciplinary research in the field from a range of internationally-renowned scholars. We host regular lectures and panel discussions throughout the year, as part of a flexible programme of events.
Abstract: Thomas Martin Wheeler’s fine picaresque novel Sunshine and Shadow was published in the Chartist newspaper, the Northern Star between March 1849 and January 1850. This paper explores how the novel seeks to occupy a space of radicalism at a transitional moment in the history of Chartism. I suggest that its innovation derives from its profoundly ambivalent relationship to place: if the novel – as a genre – conventionally works to provide its readers with an imagined place to live in, the dilemma for Wheeler is that there is no satisfactory place in which to live in the class-ridden, impoverished, and ‘artificial’ conditions of industrial Britain. In understanding this, I suggest, we understand both the novel’s political and its aesthetic principles. And to do this, we need to consider the novel embedded in the pages of the Northern Star. Reading the novel in this context shows that it entered into a discursive arena preoccupied with two issues. The first is emigration: there is talk of it everywhere, and plenty of evidence of the sheer number of people moving to the colonies at this time. And second, Land Nationalisation, and specifically the Chartist Land Plan. I develop the novel’s response to each of these topics. Locating the novel thus enables us to see how Wheeler’s writing about place provides him with an idiom in which to imagine a democratic future.
Respondent: Ian Haywood (University of Roehampton)
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