This history is the story of two men, and of the stories they and others told in order that it might be known who they were. It is a history of identity, 'the self' and social identity, and the realm of 'the social' itself in which identity is located. It explores critically the nature of class identity by looking at the formation and influence of two men who might be taken as representative of what 'working class' and 'middle class' meant in England in the nineteenth century. Class is seen to have been less significant than the various shapes of demos, and the two studies of individuals are complemented by a further study on narrative in pointing to the great importance of the collective subjects upon which democracy rested. The book indicates the way forward to a new history of democracy as an imagined entity. It represents a deepening of Patrick Joyce's engagement with 'post-modernist' theory, seeking the relevance of this theory for the writing of history, and in the process offering a critique of the conservatism of much academic history, particularly in Britain.
"Joyce's investigation of the lives, careers, and ideas of Waugh, Bright, and other "demotic" figures, as well as his more general analysis of the "democratic romances" expressed in melodramas, popular fiction, journalism, and other discursive forms, are detailed, thoroughly researched, and usually astute about the social contradictions informing "the democratic imaginary" of past and present." Nineteenth-Century Prose "This is a skillfully constructed book, with the divergent but intertwined histories of Waugh and Bright, and the narratives which they created and sustained, now converging, now separating, but always illuminating the central argument...As a conventional intellectual biography, Joyce's study of Waugh is exemplary and highly illuminating; as an application of the ideas of the 'linguistic turn' to mid-Victorian politics, his study of Bright produces equally rich insights; and as an interdisciplinary discussion of the force of political and social narratives, the essay on democratic romances opens up vistas likely to be the focus of considerable future work both by Joyce and his students." Martin Hewitt, Victorian Review "...an intriguing, at times dense, etymological critique of the nature of democracy and social identity..." R.A. Soloway, Choice "...a confident presentation..." David Mayfield, Albion