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Sensation and Professionalism in the Victorian Novel


Mariaconcetta Costantini

This book explores the extent to which four sensation novelists responded to the Victorian theorizing of professionalism. A crucial period of redefinition of the professional ideal, the third quarter of the nineteenth century also witnessed the rise and the decline of the sensation novel, a scandalous and electrifying form that challenged aesthetic and socio-cultural standards. Owing to their controversial position in the literary marketplace, novelists like Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Charles Reade and Ellen Wood developed a keen interest in professional issues, which occupy centre stage in their 1850s-70s narratives. By drawing on a variety of sociological, cultural and philosophical theories, Costantini skilfully assesses the ideological implications of the genre’s fictionalization of professionalism. She shows how sensation novelists provocatively represented the challenges faced by both elite and rising professionals, who are used as narrative vehicles for thorny discourses on authorship, ethicality, aestheticism and sociocultural identity.
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This book has been part of my professional life for some years. It was first conceived when I was writing a book on Wilkie Collins, Venturing into Unknown Waters, as part of my reflection on the fluidity of mid-Victorian society and culture. While examining Collins’s response to the challenges of modernization, I became aware of the special attention that the conceptual category of professionalism receives in sensation fiction, and subsequently I decided to explore the ideological impact of its frequent narrativization in the genre.

In pursuing this project, I have benefited from the insights and critical judgement of many friends and colleagues. My principal vote of thanks goes to Francesco Marroni for his constant support and encouragement. He discussed with me the rationale and contents of this book at length, and offered precious advice along the way. I am also greatly indebted to Allan Conrad Christensen and Gloria Lauri-Lucente for their generous and careful reading of the typescript as it was being written. Their penetrating commentaries have made it a much better book.

The following people deserve my gratitude for giving suggestions and providing resources: Silvia Antosa, Anne-Marie Beller, Roberto Garaventa, Helena Ifill, Andrew King, Paul Lewis, Andrew Mangham, Aldo Marroni, Jude V. Nixon, Ben Okri, Laurence Talairach-Vielmas, Ardel Thomas, Saverio Tomaiuolo, and Tania Zulli.

I owe special thanks to the commissioning editor at Peter Lang, Adrian Stähli, who followed this project with unmatched professionalism and commitment, and to Friederike Meisner...

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