Bleak Liberalism

Bleak Liberalism

Amanda Anderson

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226923512

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Bleak Liberalism advances a renewed account of liberalism, with the aim of providing a better understanding of the way liberal concepts, principles, and aspirations have informed novelistic art of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Britain and the US. From the writings of John Stuart Mill through the debates of the cold war and beyond, liberalism is a philosophical and political project conceived in an acute awareness of the challenges and often bleak prospects confronting it. These challenges are shown to be various, encompassing a range of psychological, sociological, and economic conditions. This renewed account of liberalism forms the basis for literary analyses focused on the interplay of political themes and elements of literary form, including narrative, dialogue, character, and perspective. The study includes analyses of canonical works of high realism (Dicken’s Bleak House, Eliot’s Middlemarch, and Trollope’s The Way We Live Now), political novels (Dickens’s Hard Times, Gaskell’s North and South, Forster’s Howards End, Trilling’s The Middle of the Journey), and experimental works of modernism (Ellison’s Invisible Man, Lessing’s The Golden Notebook) that dramatize the ideological conflicts of the twentieth century in striking ways. A central role is played in this study by the liberalism of the war and cold war era, and especially the work of Lionel Trilling, given the vivid debates during this era about the role of art in the face of challenging experiences of political disenchantment and renewed aspiration. The impact of neoliberalism on theories of liberalism is also discussed.