Bureaucratisation and the Rise of Office Literature: 1810-1900


Over the nineteenth century, Britain and France underwent an ongoing process of bureaucratisation, whereby informal, customary, or patrimonial social structures were progressively transformed into impersonal administrative systems typified by delineated hierarchies and standardised procedures. Bureaucratic organisation clustered around an emergent workplace, the office, its tasks were fulfilled by an ever-growing clerical workforce, and, in turn, these phenomena gained a newfound position in French and British culture. The clerk in particular figured in nineteenth-century literature as an archetype of social ambiguity and often mind-numbing, inconsequential work, epitomised by Charles Dickens as ‘no variety of days’ – and critical analysis of this literature has since continued to focus on the clerk as a rather tragicomic social enigma. While I do not dispute the conclusions derived from this approach, in this thesis I shift critical attention from social issues pertaining to the clerk toward the broader aesthetic implications and context of nineteenth-century bureaucratisation – represented here through the history of a genre that I call ‘office literature’. Through a comparative analysis of French and British office literature (texts that give substantial attention to the portrayal of office life) I argue that this genre offers an insight into the material and conceptual development of office work and bureaucratic structures over the nineteenth century, but that this genre was also subject to its own logic of development, one determined by changing aesthetic and cultural preoccupations as much as by social factors. As such, office literature cannot simply function as a window onto historical bureaucratisation, but neither is it wholly detached from the realities of its subject-matter: rather, it represents a bundle of influences and preoccupations – historical, social, epistemic, aesthetic, and generic – whose predominance and interaction shift over time, and which therefore need outlining and examining before the historical pertinence of this genre can become apparent.

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Additional Information: © Daniel Cleave Jenkin-Smith, 2021 asserts their moral right to be identified as the author of this thesis. This copy of the thesis has been supplied on condition that anyone who consults it is understood to recognise that its copyright rests with its author and that no quotation from the thesis and no information derived from it may be published without appropriate permission or acknowledgement. If you have discovered material in Aston Publications Explorer which is unlawful e.g. breaches copyright, (either yours or that of a third party) or any other law, including but not limited to those relating to patent, trademark, confidentiality, data protection, obscenity, defamation, libel, then please read our Takedown Policy and contact the service immediately.
Institution: Aston University
Uncontrolled Keywords: Bureaucracy,white-collar,nineteenth-century,English literature,French literature
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2023 08:58
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2021 12:52
Completed Date: 2021
Authors: Jenkin-Smith, Daniel


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