Rithika Ramamurthy responds to David Womble

For me, the term “totality” animated every aspect of Populating the Novel; it seems that David Womble and I have this in common. The discursive scope of Steinlight’s text—its impressive inclusion of statistics, sociology, civil institutions, political theory, and economic analysis—was capacious beyond all expectation. Populating really does do it all, even when it might curtail Darwinian influences or limit excursions into the physical sciences or social-scientific nuance, it puts its terms to work in surprising and excessive forms that bring everything under the rubric of representation and analysis. This brings me to a methodological question—inspired perhaps by the anxiety, during qualifying exams, of being someday responsible for such a large body of knowledge: what all should a monograph aspire to address? How do we decide the boundaries of our discipline, and how do we attempt to productively push its limits? Part of the exciting work of V21 is to insist on this power of literary studies, and it is no accident that its affiliates tend to write works like these that are dynamic in subject, discourse, and methodological mode. Is this proclivity towards ambitious texts, strategic presentism, and social import a feature specific to Victorian studies? How can academic pedagogy be more insistent that “speculative and synthetic methods,” to quote the manifesto, are essential to novel scholarship and institutional liveliness?

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