“The bourgeois . . . Not so long ago, this notion seemed indispensable to social analysis; these days, one might go years without hearing it mentioned. Capitalism is more powerful than ever, but its human embodiment seems to have vanished.” So begins The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature (Verso) by Franco Moretti, who, with the aid of Marxist predecessors such as Georg Lukács and Fredric Jameson, goes in search of this apparently missing person. A witty comparativist, Moretti tracks this paradoxical figure from the desert island of Defoe to the equally lonely dollhouse of Ibsen; along the way we glimpse the bourgeois as sketched by a host of authors, some familiar (Austen, Dickens, Balzac, Flaubert), others less so (Machado de Assis, Benito Pérez Galdós). “Prose is its only true hero,” Moretti says of his book, “prose as rational polemic.” But the bourgeois is not always
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