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Victorian Sacrifice

Ethics and Economics in Mid-Century Novels

Ilana M. Blumberg

Publication Year: 2013

In Victorian Sacrifice: Ethics and Economics in Mid-Century Novels, Ilana M. Blumberg offers a major reconsideration of the central Victorian ethic of self-sacrifice, suggesting that much of what we have taken to be the moral psychology of Victorian fiction may be understood in terms of the dramatic confrontation between Christian theology and the world of modern economic theory. As Victorian writers Charlotte Mary Yonge, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, Wilkie Collins, and Mary Augusta Ward strove to forge a practicable ethics that would reconcile the influences of an evangelical Christianity and its emphasis on selfless charity with the forces of laissez-faire capitalism and its emphasis on individual profit, they moved away from the cherished ideal of painful, solitary self-sacrifice in service of another’s good. Instead, Blumberg suggests, major novelists sought an ethical realism characterized by the belief that virtuous action could serve the collective benefit of the parties involved. At a mid-century moment of economic optimism, novelists transformed the ethical landscape by imagining what the sociologist Herbert Spencer would later call a “measured egoism,” an ethically responsible self-concern which might foster communal solidarity and material abundance. Bringing the recent literary turns to ethics and to economics into mutual conversation, Blumberg offers us a new lens on a matter as pressing today as it was 150 years ago: the search for an ethics adequate to the hopes and fears of a new economy.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press

Series: Literature, Religion, and Postsecular Studies


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5

Table of Contents

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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-x

I t is a pleasure to acknowledge those who have encouraged me and improved this work. First, I am grateful to an exemplary scholar and writer, Linda Dowling. Her uncommon standard of excellence and honesty of evaluation have been great gifts. Though she has borne no insti-tutional link to my work since teaching me as a visiting faculty member at the start of my graduate education, she has assisted me at each turn of my ...

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pp. 1-31

With these words, Maggie Tulliver, the heroine of George Eliot?s 1860 novel, Mill on the Floss, steadies herself at a moment of overmastering desire. Confronted with the chance to escape the narrow boundaries of her life with a passionate lover, Maggie nonetheless chooses to turn back because pursuing her own happiness will surely hurt others. As she reaches ...

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1. The Heir of Redclyffe and the Heiress: Men, Women, and Christian Self-Sacrifice

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pp. 32-61

I n 1853, Charlotte Mary Yonge published what was at least the twelfth of the two hundred or so books she would publish before her death in 1901, all, as she said, for the Church of God: Pro Ecclesia Dei. Yonge?s church was the Anglican one of the early John Henry New-man, Edward Pusey, and the poet John Keble, Yonge?s neighbor and close personal mentor in Hampshire. Yet even as Yonge?s novels can leave no ...

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2. Suicide, Sin, and Self-Sacrifice in A Tale of Two Cities

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pp. 62-98

It is not easy to affirm that Yonge was a Christian novelist whereas Dick-ens was not.1 Both The Heir of Redclyffe and A Tale of Two Cities end in celebration of heroic self-sacrifice, with one man dying so that another may live. ??I am the Resurrection and the Life,?? Sydney Carton repeats in the hours preceding his death, until that memorable first-person speech ...

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3. "Love Yourself as Your Neighbor:" Guilt and the Ethics of Personal Benefit in Adam Bede

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pp. 99-138

I n the last chapter we saw that Dickens challenged the ideal of sac-rifice by comparing it to suicide. Self-sacrifice might be the effect of nothing greater than a despairing self-hatred, a consuming sense of sin that can find no absolution. Even as the novel recasts self-sacrifice as a redemptive substitution of individuals that depends upon and confirms the powers of collective human identity, its ethic leads the protagonist directly ...

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4. "Unnatural Self-Sacrifice:" Trollope's Ethic of Mutual Benefit

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pp. 139-172

C hronicling the day-to-day dramas of his imagined county, Barset-shire, Anthony Trollope challenged the mid-century sacrificial ideal in a series devoted to exploring church politics. While the Barsetshire series is known for treating the Church more as a social and economic institution than as a religious body, I will suggest in this chapter that Trol-lope?s forceful challenge to sacrifice did not appear coincidentally in a ...

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5. Collins' Writerly Sacrifice

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pp. 173-206

To many modern readers, it is encouraging to see a ?post-Victorian? horizon in Trollope?s optimism that painful self-sacrifice might be replaced with mutual benefit and pleasure. Yet, as Trollope himself knew, the 1860s had not ushered in that utopian condition. Trollope?s progres-sive vision of an altruism so thoroughgoing that it became the unrecog-nizable, yet vital medium of human relations took its inspiration from ...

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Conclusion: Robert Elsmere: The "True, Best Self" and the Ideal of Mutual Service

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pp. 207-226

I n the chapters preceding this one, I have investigated the ways that secularizing Victorian novelists at first seem to represent altru-ism and egoism as constituting an exhaustive moral polarity, only for their novels to grapple with the impracticability and undesirability of so elevated a moral ideal and so extreme a moral schema. These novel-ists?some tentatively, some confidently?forged an alternative ethic to ...

Works Cited

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pp. 227-239


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pp. 240-260

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Other Works in the Series

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p. 261-261

Literature, Religion, and Postsecular Studies publishes scholarship on the influence of reli-gion on literature and of literature on religion from the sixteenth century onward. Books in the series include studies of religious rhetoric or allegory; of the secularization of religion, ritual, and religious life; and of the emerging identity of postsecular studies and literary Lake Methodism: Polite Literature and Popular Religion in England, 1780?1830...

Back Cover

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p. 273-273

E-ISBN-13: 9780814271117
E-ISBN-10: 0814271111
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814212264
Print-ISBN-10: 0814212263

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Literature, Religion, and Postsecular Studies