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OverwhelmedLiterature, Aesthetics, and the Nineteenth-Century Information Revolution$
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Maurice S. Lee

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691192925

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691192925.001.0001

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(p.165) Chapter Four Testing

Maurice S. Lee

Princeton University Press

This chapter sets aside questions of textual excess to discuss mass assessments and the production of literary knowledge or literary information. As the rise of liberal meritocracy in the Victorian period increasingly required bureaucratic impersonality and quantitative metrics, standardized literature tests negotiated between aesthetics and information during the formation of literary studies as a discipline. Literature exams from normal schools, the British Civil Service, and the US Bureau of Indian Affairs reflect broader controversies over what constitutes literary knowledge and whether it can be systematically assessed. Such concerns involve epistemological problems, as well as social questions. Race, gender, and class inflect depictions of standardized examinations in novels by Charles Dickens, Emily Brontë, Anthony Trollope, Fanny Fern, Frank Webb, Charlotte Yonge, Louisa May Alcott, and others. These and other texts anticipate aspects of the current crisis in the humanities—accountability through testing, the corporatization of education, and the instrumental value of the literary.

Keywords:   mass assessment, liberal meritocracy, Victorian period, literature, literary knowledge, literary information

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