This article considers Joseph Conrad's Nostromo and D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love as modernist reworkings of the industrial novels of the mid‐nineteenth century, such as Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton and Charles Dickens's Hard Times. Conrad and Lawrence, the article argues, rework the industrial‐novel genre as a way to figure a crisis of British culture—and of the novel as a form. In the era of British imperial decline, the apparent massification and globalization of modern Western culture, and revolutionary changes in gender relations and family life, the synoptic historical narratives of Nostromo and Women in Love describe the transformation of the earlier promise of development into an apocalyptic present, and, in turn, the dissolution of the progressive assurance of the realist novel. While the nineteenth‐century novels plead for reform and paternalistic care to moderate but protect the free market and liberalism, Nostromo and Women in Love narrate precisely the historical fulfillment of this wish—but, then, in turn, also narrate the end of that reformist logic and the triumph of a fully globalized and “perfected” capitalism, which they characterize as worse than the free‐market capitalism that the earlier novels both criticize and celebrate. Drawing on Marxist‐feminist theories of “social reproduction,” the article describes especially how the modernist novels imagine the family as a machine for maintaining and servicing capitalist production: the regeneration of the family—a trope so important to the resolution of plot in the realist novel—is now a sign of decay instead of resilience.

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