Uniform TitleSecond nature: the discourse of habit in nineteenth-century British realist fiction
NameAllen, Kristie M. (author), Flint, Kate (chair), Williams, Carolyn (internal member), Dienst, Richard (internal member), Dames, Nicholas (outside member), Rutgers University, Graduate School - New Brunswick,
SubjectEnglish, Literatures in,
English literature--19th century--History and criticism,
Realism in literature
DescriptionSecond Nature: The Discourse of Habit in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction explores ideas about habit in the nineteenth century. Even as the discourse of habit took shape in psychology studies, self-help tracts, and social reform inquiries, its aesthetic realization in the novel performed the crucial task of synthesizing these psychological and sociological perspectives. My dissertation examines the ways realist writers sought to reconceive the relationship between social determination and self-improvement. I argue that they were compelled to develop new modes to represent consciousness in ways that would correspond to new theories of evolutionary progress, institutional change, and even the physiology of the brain. As science increasingly pointed toward the amorality of natural evolution, Victorian novelists derived moral meaning from new ways of narrating the ordinary experiences that constituted people's "second nature."
In revealing the rich historical debates about habit, my dissertation contributes to our understanding of the reciprocally shaping forces of scientific ideas about the mind and realist narrative techniques. Chapter one analyzes the political, scientific and aesthetic concerns with habit, demonstrating several contradictions at work in the Victorian formulation of second nature by tracing its genealogy. The texts I examine--parliamentary reports, the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, and evolutionary controversies, among others--suggest that the training and reforming of habit was understood as a key to social reform. In the following three chapters I consider the intricate ways that Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy imagine and depict the intersecting social and psychological origins of habit. Dickens's novel Dombey and Son investigates the ethical responsibility for one's socialization and unconscious life. Chapter two's reading of The Mill on the Floss argues that Eliot's engagement with new physiological understandings of habit shapes both her ideal of sympathy and her sense of the importance of reimagining conventions. My final chapter contends that Hardy's work refutes earlier realist claims about the potential of habit for self-reform. Taken together, these fictions demonstrate an aesthetic experiment with scientific notions of subjectivity, examining how repetition, personal disposition, desire, environment, and early training are entailed in the process of becoming a moral subject.
NoteIncludes bibliographical references.
CollectionGraduate School - New Brunswick Electronic Theses and Dissertations
RightsThe author owns the copyright to this work.