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Good FormThe Ethical Experience of the Victorian Novel$
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Jesse Rosenthal

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691196640

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691196640.001.0001

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What Feels Right: Ethics, Intuition, and the Experience of Narrative

What Feels Right: Ethics, Intuition, and the Experience of Narrative

(p.10) Chapter 1 What Feels Right: Ethics, Intuition, and the Experience of Narrative
Good Form

Jesse Rosenthal

Princeton University Press

This chapter demonstrates how literary theory bears the mark of the ethical debates of the nineteenth century. Through a reading of Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton (1848) and Charles Dickens's Hard Times (1854), as well as a discussion of a number of classic narrative theorists, it shows how narrative theory, underwritten by a principle of forward compulsion through the text, reiterates the position of the intuitionist thinkers of the Victorian period. Both novels are examples of what people have come to call the “industrial novel,” or the “social problem novel”: a set of novels that focus on the condition of the working class. There is a strongly felt, if sometimes vague, ethical message in these novels' focus on the human misery inherent in capitalism: a general sense that it is necessary to treat other humans by some other standard than the bottom line. The chapter then considers the philosophical arguments of Bernard Williams—famous for his use of small narratives as philosophical argument—and suggests how narrative form, having subsumed the tenets of intuitionism, itself became an effective argumentative practice.

Keywords:   literary theory, ethical debates, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, narrative theory, industrial novels, human misery, Bernard Williams, narrative form, intuitionism

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