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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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The Subject of the Newgate Novel: Crime, Interest, What Novels Are About

The Subject of the Newgate Novel: Crime, Interest, What Novels Are About

(p.42) Chapter 2 The Subject of the Newgate Novel: Crime, Interest, What Novels Are About
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Jesse Rosenthal

Princeton University Press

This chapter examines a central moment in the development of moral narrative practices—one that is, at the same time, a moment in the coming into being of “the Victorian novel.” Looking at Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist and the “Newgate novel” controversy of the 1830s, it offers an example of one way in which the experience of diachronic reading could be interpreted in an explicitly moral fashion. Oliver Twist was to be distinguished from other similar novels, and particularly from William Harrison Ainsworth's Jack Sheppard, because of the ways in which it appealed to the moral sensibilities of its reader: “natural sentiment,” “moral sense.” The general implications seem clear enough: Oliver Twist is more appealing to its readers' moral feelings because it has other, “healthier,” focuses than crime alone. According to the novel's reviewers, Oliver Twist might feature crime, but unlike Jack Sheppard, crime is not the novel's subject. Ultimately, what a survey of the discourse surrounding Newgate novels makes clear is how debated this question of subject matter actually was.

Keywords:   moral narrative practices, Victorian novels, Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, Newgate novels, William Harrison Ainsworth, Jack Sheppard, moral sensibilities, crime novels, subject matter

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