By Sean O'Toole
The ancient philosophical concept of habit fixated and unsettled the Victorians in profoundly new ways, as advances in physiology and evolutionary theory sparked far-reaching debates about the threat of automatism and the proper mental training of the will. This book suggests that nineteenth-century novelists not only echoed these debates but intervened in them in unique, transformative, and strikingly modern ways. In attending closely to the enabling, generative potential of habit and its role in the creation of new perceptions and social identities, novelists from Dickens to James bequeathed a far more complex conception of the category than has yet been acknowledged, allowing for a rich phenomenology of the unpredictable, changeable modes of modern existence. Habit in the English Novel rethinks the relationship between nineteenth-century fiction and sciences of the mind, and reconsiders what we have come to assume about the Victorian novel, including our own critical habits, in the wake of Freud and cultural modernism.
"This fascinating study explores how changing attitudes to habit in the latter part of the nineteenth century had profound fictional and theoretical implications. Habit in the English Novel, 1850-1900 includes some striking and original analysis of nineteenth-century literature, and alerts us to the complexity and profound significance of an apparently ordinary and ubiquitous human trait. This is an important book, which raises key questions about the relationship between literature and psychology, and casts new light on familiar material."--Jenny Bourne Taylor, University of Sussex, UK