This introductory chapter discusses how, over the course of the nineteenth century, an “intuitive” faith in an internalized sense of right and wrong came to take an increasingly prominent, if fraught, place in English moral life. It was “moralistic” figures like George Eliot—that is, novelists—who would provide the most lasting expression of this prominence. The compulsion of narrative, a reader's feeling of being drawn through a text, was a key term in the developing novel art of the nineteenth century. The metaphor of physical motion, which Victorians applied to the reading experience, came to offer a means of describing the movement from what is to what ought to be—or at least the yearning for that movement. At the same time, the moral valence that readers placed on the stories they read came to shape, in terms of both market forces and creative tradition, the principles that now define the well-plotted realist novel. By offering a fuller context for the ethical discourse of the British nineteenth century, this book argues that Victorian formalism was inextricably tied to moral thought. This not only impacts one's reading of Victorian literary and philosophical history but also offers a new perspective on one's own approaches to literature.
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