Megan Ward Responds to Corbin Hiday

I’m curious about Corbin Hiday’s description of the novel as a “scalar object.” Thinking with Taylor, Hiday says that the novel, as a “scalar object, becomes the ideal form for thinking crises, historical and contemporary, of scale.” While I find this formulation compelling and evocative, the Victorians probably did not think of the novel in these terms (a quick Google n-gram search, for instance, shows that “scalar” was almost unused in the nineteenth century).  So what does this potentially anachronistic way of thinking afford?

If what we want is a definition of “scalar,” the Victorian novel is not the place to turn. But if we want a richer, more textured exploration of possible applications of the term, the Victorian novel certainly offers that, as it begins to help us think about relations between numbers and values as textual and narrative. To me, this crystalizes the possibilities of Taylor’s approach: it does not purport to discuss Victorian climate exclusively on its own terms but instead evokes literature’s multiple ends. The goal is not a better understanding of Victorian climate, but a better understanding of the Victorian novel and, through it, a better understanding of climate crises writ large.

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