This essay argues that the depiction of characters in Victorian realist fiction was shaped by an emerging cultural interest in the aggregation and analysis of statistical information about historical individuals and the subsequent production of the hypothetical persons of statistical discourse. Novelistic characters are frequently exposed in a double vision that draws attention to their individualized personhood and at the same time importantly locates them within a larger statistical population. In their description of characters, charting of individual fortunes, and imagining of possible contingencies, novelists drew from a wider fascination with the collection of social statistical information and the promise that this offered for envisioning possible dangers and picturing contingent versions of the self. I consider several examples of George Eliot's engagement with the logic of statistical analysis in Scenes of Clerical Life, Middlemarch, and Daniel Deronda. In the second half of this essay, I offer a rereading of Dickens's Great Expectations and argue that the International Statistical Congress of 1860, the Census of 1861, and the surrounding debates regarding the value of accumulating numerical information about the population provide a crucial context for Dickens's composition and structuring of the narrative.
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Michael Klotz; Manufacturing Fictional Individuals: Victorian Social Statistics, the Novel, and Great Expectations. Novel 1 August 2013; 46 (2): 214–233. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2088112
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