David Womble responds to Daniel Kasper

Bringing Shirley into the conversation strikes me as particularly useful, since large-scale historical events, as Daniel T. Kasper notes, loom so large in that novel. Insofar as Lukács has always spoken of history as a set of mass events that assemble populations into nations and classes, it may be worth thinking about whether history and the historical novel would have anything to add to the modes of aggregation Steinlight discusses. The historical novel is tantalizingly absent from her argument, and Kasper’s allusion to the Luddite rebellion, dissidents from the Church of England, and the Napoleonic wars point to the fact that the populations Steinlight discusses, by and large, form within a synchronous present. To be sure, Malthus’s predictions of future population growth represent an exception, although the diachrony of Malthus’s Essay is largely illusory, as his predictions are the formulaic outcome of a ratio of terms that exist in his present day. The temporal intervals of Steinlight’s study are those of capitalism and liberalism; the futures imagined are ones that can be apprehended within the lifetime of the individual. The slightly larger scope of cultural history engaged by the historical novel, however, aligns precisely with the formulation Kasper uses to describe the way the masses appear in Steinlight’s argument, “developing from the impulse to see some bodies and not to see others.” The historical novel changes the terms of which lives matter, as liberal individuals surrender their personal agency to only a few select actors whose lives shape the course of history. Ordinary individuals gets swallowed into the masses undergoing a kind of historical change that means subjection to historical events that aggregate and sweep large-scale populations into the classed and raced configurations of the Victorian era. There is, in other words, something to be said about the way longer timescales assemble different kinds of populations.

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