The Unfinished Historicist Project: In Praise of Suspicion

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Historicism remains relatively robust in Victorian Studies, but it has developed rather quietly in two contrary directions – synchronic and diachronic – that have long constituted an important theoretical fault line. The first half of this essay surveys these two ongoing types of Victorian historicism and urges the importance of integrating them; the second defends historicism from a recent theoretical movement that deflects attention from that potential integration: the critique of ‘suspicious reading’. The essay focuses on general methodological issues that affect how we defend humanistic scholarship, since historicism’s continued development remains vital not only to Victorianists but to the discipline as a whole. While historicism has been both enormously reinvigorating and much contested, by friend and foe alike, the tectonic shift in our critical practice that it represents has never crystallized a simple, coherent set of principles that might define the mission of literary studies within the humanities. Although there are many ways to justify literary criticism, historicism will always be centrally entwined with them. Affirming the role suspicious reading plays in historical contextualization and clarifying the methodologies and objectives of historicism are thus tasks that still lie urgently before us.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)58-78
Number of pages21
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • History
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


  • empiricism
  • ethics
  • hermeneutics of suspicion
  • Historicism
  • humanities
  • politics
  • surface reading


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