Susan E. Colón. The Professional Ideal in the Victorian Novel: The Works of Disraeli, Trollope, Gaskell, and Eliot. New York: Palgrave, 2007. ISBN: 978-1-4039-7613-0. Price: US$65.00[Notice]

  • Jennifer Ruth

…plus d’informations

  • Jennifer Ruth
    Portland State University

Susan Colón’s The Professional Ideal in Victorian Fiction consolidates a subgenre in Victorian criticism. This subgenre sketches the emergence and theorization of the modern professional in the Victorian imagination and a brief list of its major texts includes Bruce Robbins’s Secular Vocations: Intellectuals, Professionalism, Culture (1993), Lauren M. E. Goodlad’s Victorian Literature and the Victorian State: Character and Governance in Liberal Society (2003), Clare Pettitt’s Patent Inventions: Intellectual Property and the Victorian Novel (2004), Daniel Hack’s Material Interests of the Victorian Novel (2005), and my own Novel Professions: Interested Disinterest and the Making of the Professional in the Victorian Novel (2006), as well as a handful of influential articles by critics like Nicholas Dames and Sharon Marcus. While not all of these works focus solely on the professional, all of them distinguish this figure from his class counterparts in Victorian fiction and work towards explaining the various ideologies which he both embodied and reconfigured. Colón’s book beautifully crystallizes the discussion begun by these works into the question of the professional ideology’s “complex relationship to idealist and materialist rationalities” (3). Correcting a critical tendency to see the professional as a character constituted exclusively by secular modernity, Colón “understand[s] Victorian professionalism in the light of its persistent relationship to ideals shaped by premodern and nonmarket sensibilities in tension with modern, market-driven notions of the division of labor” (2). Her introduction examines the key sociological treatments of the professional class, moving nimbly from Harold Perkin to Magali Larson to Barbara and John Ehrenreich and the latter’s formulation of the professional-managerial class. She finds that these studies all portray the professional as, at bottom, market-oriented and his professions of disinterested service as nothing more than “sublimated self-interest” (6). None of them, she claims, can accommodate the Victorians’ capacity for genuine idealism. Drawing inspiration from Amanda Anderson’s The Powers of Distance, Colón wants to historicize “the centrality and persistence of idealism to the professional project” (7). Anderson works against Foucauldian suspicion of the expert class, and while Colón follows this lead in some respects, she also frames her book as a beef with Marxism: “The Marxist insistence on seeing all idealist formulations as smokescreens for self-interest,” she writes, “simply does not do justice to Victorian realities” (9). This is, in my view, wrong. The sociology Colón cites is a critical starting point for theorizing the professional but it hardly exhausts the Marxists on “idealist formulations.” Colón overlooks a rich dialectical tradition, the touchstones of which are Raymond Williams’ Culture and Society, Herbert Marcuse’s Negations, Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, and Pierre Bourdieu’s Rules of Art. These works keep the positive and negative aspects of bourgeois idealism squarely in mind. They are careful to avoid writing it out of existence because it is precisely what, in Marcuse’s words, “keeps alive the best desires of men amidst a bad reality” (Negations 102). This weakness about the range of Marxist analysis may have consequences for the claims Colón makes in her introduction—indeed, one could argue that not only does Marx get misinterpreted here but Freud as well (“sublimated self-interest” is, after all, not self-interest and is arguably the only form of disinterest humanly possible)—but it by no means invalidates her subsequent arguments. In fact, what surprises me is how little this misstep deforms the book, which is a remarkably agile and substantive account of the ideological production of the professional by way of nuanced readings of specific Victorian novels. In her first chapter, Colón shows how Benjamin Disraeli recuperates a paternalistic aristocracy but with “a specific twist toward the emergent professional” (25). …

Parties annexes