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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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Back in Time: The Bildungsroman and the Source of Moral Agency

Back in Time: The Bildungsroman and the Source of Moral Agency

(p.124) Chapter 4 Back in Time: The Bildungsroman and the Source of Moral Agency
Good Form

Jesse Rosenthal

Princeton University Press

This chapter focuses on the Bildungsroman, studying the philosophical and literary significance of the novel of development. Through readings of Margaret Oliphant's Miss Marjoribanks (1866), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, and John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, it suggests that the ethical foundations of the concept of Bildung—and in particular the idea of sensus communis (common sense)—made form in the Bildungsroman, lay the groundwork for one's own understanding of what makes a novel count as an object of study. The operating principle in the narrative structure of the Bildungsroman is the discovery that one is already a member of a community, and that one's decisions can be understood as stemming from that community. Proper cultivation means the development of a character that can understand and respond to the pre-existing, yet unconscious, shared consensus: the sensus communis. This sort of reciprocity between individual and community is actually a better description of how moral intuition worked, at its more refined levels, than references to physical sensation.

Keywords:   Bildungsroman, novel of development, Margaret Oliphant, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Charles Dickens, John Stuart Mill, sensus communis, common sense, community, moral intuition

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