Chris R. Vanden Bossche's intelligent and deftly organized Reform Acts: Chartism, Social Agency, and the Victorian Novel, 1832–67 studies eleven British novels, written during the years surrounding the first two Reform Acts (1832 and 1867) of the nineteenth century, to explore how novels portray “social agency.” Delivered in a straightforward, unfussy prose, this investigation enhances our understanding of this fertile novel-writing era, even as it does so with some conceptual imprecision. As a reliable and learned overview of the novel writing on reform of this era, it excels. As a study of Victorian agency in the novel and, in particular, as a revisionary methodological study, it is less successful.

The book is divided into three sections, aligned with three familiar stages of the Chartist movement: the early phase, when petitions and marches conjoined with debates in the movement concerning the relation between...

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