The rise of the middle class in eighteenth-century England has long been called into question in British historiography. This essay, following the lead of Dror Wahrman's Imagining the Middle Class, reads the significance of claims linking the novel and the middle class rather than offering a more accurate social history of the novel. The essay traces histories of the novel throughout the nineteenth century, from the moment of the “institution of the novel” at its beginning to the definition of the genre as the cultural expression of a rising “middle class” of puritan merchants at the century's close. Ultimately, I argue, the case for the middle-class novel is best read as an allegorical defense of the emergent English departments as they replace gentleman-amateur lecturers with professionalized professors, displace the Aristocratic tradition of classics, and work to serve a rapidly expanding group of business-oriented university students.

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