Recirculations: Objects, Plotting, and the Second-Order Economies of Nineteenth-Century British Fiction


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project examines the relationship between secondary economies—salvage, barter, and black markets—and the narrative design of nineteenth-century British fiction. Writers including Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Wilkie Collins granted a heightened prominence to recirculating objects, dynamic materials such as recycled rags, pawned jewelry, and stolen goods. This dissertation argues that these literary economies functioned not merely as description but as key structural nexuses for innovations in plotting. Novelists modeled their own narrative organization—the coordinated actions of their famously complex and tightly planned plots—on objects’ circular mobility and potential for reappearance. This coevolution of things and plotting occurred specifically with those plot devices that, by their nature, expressed partly invisible or surprising relationships: the Gothic recurrence of repressed history, the improbable coincidences of melodrama, the multi-plot structure of the realist novel, and the narrative suspense of detective fiction.