Providential Endings: Martineau, Dickens, and the Didactic Task of Political Economy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In the previous chapter, I showed how Austen and Dickens responded to political economy’s ambiguous moral heritage through formal arrangements of visibility and obscurity, their shared ambition to map whole societies, and their recognition of partial, fragmented, and composite points of view. The industrial novels discussed in this chapter — Harriet Martineau’s Illustrations of Political Economy (1832–34) and Charles Dickens’s Hard Times (1854) — are in contrast more literally engaged with economic issues and take open polemical stances for or against its ways of knowing. They also share a confidence that realist novels can have a political impact — a confidence that tended to ebb away from novels during the rest of the nineteenth century, as fiction either accepted its role as entertainment (as with sensation and mass-market fiction) or aspired to the status of an amoral chronicle of consciousness (as may be said about the works of Flaubert, James, and Conrad). But in addition to their thematic discussion of industrial economics, these industrial novels also display some of the formal traces of engagement with the moral ambiguities of complex capitalist society — a tortured irony that is visible less in the composition of complex points of view than in the contortions of their plots as they reconcile the providential and sentimental demand for a happy ending with their didactic critiques of existing society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPalgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages26
StatePublished - 2011

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture
ISSN (Print)2634-6494
ISSN (Electronic)2634-6508


  • Fairy Tale
  • Happy Ending
  • Hard Time
  • Moral Science
  • Political Economy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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