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Career Fictions: The Representation Of The Career In The Victorian Novel
Career Fictions: The Representation of the Career in the Victorian Novel explores the impact on the novel of what sociologists have termed "professionalization," the complex pattern of sociological and economic change through which Britain was transformed from a semi-feudal aristocratic culture in the eighteenth century to a nation of job-holders in the nineteenth. As I show, between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the definition of what it meant to be a "professional" underwent a radical change, as traditional occupations that had been considered trades in the eighteenth century, such as surgeons and apothecaries, as well as newer occupations that arose to meet the industrial revolution's increasing demand for technical specialization, were invested with a much higher degree of public authority than they had been in the past. My dissertation examines the challenges this process presented to novelists, arguing that the expansion of the division of labor and increased specialization in society brought about a fundamental shift in the novelistic representation of work. One of the chief concerns of the dissertation is to show how the older Protestant notion of the "vocation," understood as a calling to serve a higher purpose, comes into conflict with the "profession" in the nineteenth century novel. Professionalism, in which individual desire is made to conform to certain codes of social uniformity built around the workplace, was a widely celebrated ideal among the British middle-class in the nineteenth century, but many Victorian novelists, from Dickens to Hardy, were particularly attuned to the way it could force individuals into positions of social alienation. Lydgate in Middlemarch, for instance, begins the novel with a "vocation," in the sense that he's experienced a spiritual calling to create something new in medicine, but ends with a "profession:" an "excellent practice" we're told, but certainly not the future he'd envisioned for himself as a young man. Broadly- speaking, the vocation relies on an ideal projection of an imagined social community that a character can improve through his or her work, while the profession signifies an occupation a character enters into for the purpose of securing a social standing and the necessities of life. In my dissertation, I explore the conflict between these two modes in Eliot's Middlemarch, Dickens's David Copperfield, and Hardy's The Return of the Native.
dissertation or thesis