“not all the calculators of the National Debt can tell me the capacity for good or evil”

Borget European_Factories_at_Canton
Lithograph of Auguste Borget, “European Factories at Canton” (c.1840).

Martha Nussbaum describes how “the structure of the interaction between the text and its imagined reader invites the reader to see how the mutable features of society and circumstance bear on the realization of shared hopes and desires, and, in fact, on their very shape and structure” (199).  As an example, she gives an account of her own engagements with Dickens’s Hard Times:

As reader (a real-life reader, occupying for the present the role of the implied reader), I notice that the lives of factory workers in my own society differ in some ways from the lives of the workers of Coketown; in other ways, however, they do not differ as much as one might wish. I notice that access to divorce in my own society is easier and less class-divided than it was in the time of Stephen Blackpool; but in other respects gender relations and problems connected with marriage and the family have not changed. I notice that Gradgrind economics has an even greater hold over the political and intellectual life of my society than it did over the society known to Dickens’s characters, or to the authorial voice. And I wonder about this change, in connection with my interest in the novel’s criticisms of this norm of rationality. In all these ways and others, I am invited to think what should be, and to see how “men and women more or less like” myself (Dickens’s way, in the novel, of describing the people his characters encounter when they read novels) have lived differently from the way in which I now live […]

(“Reply to Richard Eldridge,”Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics, Third Series, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Winter, 1992), pp. 199.)

(The post title quote is from the Penguin edition of Hard Times, edited by Kate Flint, p.71.)

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