This essay posits that the turn of Chartist writers to popular fiction and the writing of melodrama in the 1840s was part of an attempt to reharness radicalism to populism, at a time when the new commercial press was increasingly luring lower-class readers away from the radical press. Distinguishing carefully between radical, popular radical, and commercial popular fiction and journalism at the mid-century, the essay argues that while the radical press of the 1810s and 1820s had had a broad popular readership, Chartism was the first radical movement that had to compete with the new Sunday newspapers. Focusing on the novels of Ernest Jones, one of Chartism'slate, great leaders, the essay counters recent arguments for the essentially conservative or anti-activist thrust of melodramatic writing, arguing that a less formalist, more materialist account of the way that melodrama circulated in the cultural economy of the mid-century produces a more "radical" apprehension of its cultural politics. The essay also argues that Chartism'sturn to melodrama coincided with the rise of a political vocabulary of class identity and class conflict within Chartist discourse. While Chartism'sinitial investment in a Liberal Reformist language of individual rights had lent itself to the lyric individualism of Romantic poetry, the binary oppositions and frequently violent conflicts that characterize melodrama made it the preferred genre for later Chartist scribes.
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