What are the forms that democracy can take beyond political institutions and social movements? In what ways might informal forms of power and influence suggest a new idea of participation in mass democracy? And what if these forms are expressed in the most prosaic and most profound ways in literature, specifically novels and short stories? These questions direct Stacey Margolis's interesting study of how public opinion was represented in nineteenth-century American fiction and why it was not always political or even public.

Fictions of Mass Democracy in Nineteenth-Century America is a bold book in its premise and its argument. The introductory epigraphs, from Jacques Derrida's “Call It a Day for Democracy” (1992) and Frederick Grimke's The Nature and Tendency of Free Institutions (1848), gesture to the historical poles of the book and the nature of its critical intervention. From Derrida, Margolis draws...

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