Daniel Jenkin-Smith, “A Tale of Two Bureaucracies: The Formal Development of Mid-Nineteenth-Century French and British Office Novels” (pp. 93–123)
The history of British and French society over the long nineteenth century can be framed as two contrasting histories of bureaucratization. In France, a “rational” body of organizational rules and procedures coalesced quickly around the state, taking their paradigmatic form during the First Republic and Empire (1792–1814) but stagnating thereafter. In Britain, these structures developed piecemeal, and over a longer time, gaining relative coherence by the midcentury. In both cases, however, office work became a major social, ideological, and cultural phenomenon, one that warranted literary portrayal despite its apparent unconduciveness to conventional narrative forms. In this article I illustrate the shifting character of “office novels” within these contexts, and I accordingly operate from both a comparative and a longitudinal perspective: comparing novels from France and Britain produced during the midcentury period (pivotal in the history of bureaucracy and of the novel) that focus on office life. I argue that the changing role of the office career between William Makepeace Thackeray’s abortive office Bildungsroman The History of Samuel Titmarsh (1841) and Anthony Trollope’s The Three Clerks (1858) reflects the reform, saturation, and ideological legitimation of bureaucratic forms in Britain over this period. Meanwhile, the transition from Honoré de Balzac’s highly reflexive satirical novel Les Employés (1844) to Émile Gaboriau’s office-hopping Picaresque Les Gens de Bureau (1862) reflects an increasing jadedness in France about the ability of these structures to change.