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The Novel of Purpose: Literature and Social Reform in the Anglo-American World Hardcover – November 20, 2006

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Editorial Reviews

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"In a work of impressive range and depth, Amanda Claybaugh focuses on the exchanges and reciprocal influences of American and English novelists of the nineteenth century. Several concentric arguments thread through Claybaugh's book, but the most foundational is the contention that English-language print culture in the nineteenth century was above all transnational, bound together by transatlantic reprinting, circulation, and mutual influence. And of all these connective links, social reform, Claybaugh argues, was particularly potent in binding together the two nations and their literatures, functioning as a 'central conduit for these exchanges'. . . . The Novel of Purpose is densely packed with finely honed arguments and observations, but a few points merit mention. First, Claybaugh's discussion of realism is a refreshing and important contribution to a well-worked-over field. With admirable poise, she offers a precise and clear definition of realism, distinguishes Anglo-American from continental realism, and charts the complicated history of realist criticism over the last several decades. . . . The Novel of Purpose is well written, impressively researched, and wide ranging. Claybaugh offers an important and long overdue analysis of this novelistic genre, and her book deserves to rank among the finest recent contributions to transnational literary history."―Claudia Stokes, H-SHGAPE, H-Net Reviews, November 2007

"The Novel of Purpose is a major contribution to the study of nineteenth-century literature on both sides of the Atlantic―one, moreover, that provides innovative and timely insight into the complex relationship between aesthetic production and political engagement."―Michael Sayeau, Novel: A Forum on Fiction

"This is a wide-ranging, learned, elegant, and subtle book that makes an original contribution to the presently burgeoning field of Anglophone literary and cultural studies by adopting a transatlantic perspective on the generative relationship between social reform and the emergence of literary realism."―Mary Loeffelholz, Northeastern University

"In The Novel of Purpose, Amanda Claybaugh makes a number of illuminating and convincing connections between the literary and reform traditions of England and those of the United States. This book provides sharp insights into the performative nature of 'the novel of purpose,' showing how reformist intentions, even when they were disavowed or domesticated, helped establish national structures of feeling that were circulated transnationally. Claybaugh examines her subjects with clarity and ease."―Russ Castronovo, Jean Wall Bennett Professor of English and American Studies, University of Wisconsin–Madison

"The Novel of Purpose offers a wonderfully incisive and provocative account of the links between social reform and novelistic realism in nineteenth-century Britain and America. As it makes the case for a distinctive Anglo-American realism shaped by common reformist goals within a single literary marketplace, Amanda Claybaugh's work transforms our understanding not only of the nineteenth-century novel, but also of the very idea of the transatlantic."―James Eli Adams, Cornell University

From the Back Cover

"This is a wide-ranging, learned, elegant, and subtle, book that makes an original contribution to the presently burgeoning field of Anglophone literary and cultural studies by adopting a transatlantic perspective on the generative relationship between social reform and the emergence of literary realism."-Mary Loeffelholz, Northeastern University

"In The Novel of Purpose,  Amanda Claybaugh makes a number of illuminating and convincing connections between the literary and reform traditions of England and those of the United States. This book provides sharp insights into the performative nature of 'the novel of purpose,' showing how reformist intentions, even when they were disavowed or domesticated, helped establish national structures of feeling that were circulated transnationally. Claybaugh examines her subjects with clarity and ease."—Russ Castronovo, Jean Wall Bennett Professor of English and American Studies, University of Wisconsin–Madison

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (November 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801444802
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801444807
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,237,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
"The Novel of Purpose" makes a case for the imbricated relationship between Anglo-American realism---the "dominant narrative mode of the nineteenth century"---and social reform movements. Claybaugh lays out the main premises of the book in clear prose. The first premise touches on material culture and print capitalism. Claybaugh posits that social reform movements would not be the same without print culture: textual representations were how reformist ideas entered homes and spread throughout the public sphere. Her second premise or claim delimits the geo-historical scope of both the texts under analysis and the social reform movements they engaged: the reform projects for which Claybaugh provides textual or literary history were "crucially Anglo-American in scope"--that is, these reformist texts circulated transatlantically between Britain and America---and reformers in either place worked together on what were essentially national projects of progress and improvement. Her third claim contributes to the body of scholarship that constructs the category of literary realism. She contends that literary realism, as practiced in "Anglo-America" in contrast with its continental iterations, is indebted to reformist writings for representing things "as they really are" with higher purposes than mere aesthetics or entertainment.

I find Claybaugh's framework somewhat limited by geography, language, and genre. Arguably, these are not limits but together form a particularized and strategic focus.
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