The Burdens of Perfection

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2008-05-01
  • Publisher: Cornell Univ Pr

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Literary criticism has, in recent decades, rather fled from discussions of moral psychology, and for good reasons, too. Who would not want to flee the hectoring moralism with which it is so easily associated-portentous, pious, humorless? But in protecting us from such fates, our flight has had its costs, as we have lost the concepts needed to recognize and assess much of what distinguished nineteenth-century British literature. That literature was inescapably ethical in orientation, and to proceed as if it were not ignores a large part of what these texts have to offer, and to that degree makes less reasonable the desire to study them, rather than other documents from the period, or from other periods. Such are the intuitions that drive The Burdens of Perfection, a study of moral perfectionism in nineteenth-century British culture. Reading the period's essayists (Mill, Arnold, Carlyle), poets (Browning and Tennyson), and especially its novelists (Austen, Dickens, Eliot, and James), Andrew H. Miller provides an extensive response to Stanley Cavell's contribution to ethics and philosophy of mind. In the process, Miller offers a fresh way to perceive the Victorians and the lingering traces their quests for improvement have left on readers.

Author Biography

Andrew H. Miller is Associate Professor of English at Indiana University.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Resisting, Conspiring, Completing: An Introductionp. 1
Improvement and Moral Perfectionism
Moral Perfectionism in the Winter of 1866-67
Historical Sources
Implicative and Conclusive Criticism
The Narrative of Improvement
Skepticism and Perfectionism I: Mechanization and Desirep. 35
Standing Before Camelot
Skepticism as Ungoverned Desire: Browning's Duke
Skepticism as Mechanization: Carlyle and Mill
Mr. Dombey Rides Death
Skepticism and Perfectionism II: Weakness of Willp. 54
Victorian Akrasia
Perspective and Commitment
Hard Times and Akrasia
Daniel Deronda and Second-Person Relations
Orchestrating Perspectives
Mark Tapley's Nausea
Interlude: Critical Free Indirect Discoursep. 84
Reading Thoughts: Casuistry and Transfigurationp. 92
Casuistry and the Novel
The Theater of Casuistry: Dramatic Monologues
Exemplary Criticism
The Moral Psychology of Improvement
Perfectly Helplessp. 123
The Reticulation of Constraint
Sigmund Freud and Richard Simpson
Responsiveness, Knowingness, and John Henry Newmanp. 142
"An Evil Crust Is on Them"
The Violence of Our Denials
Watching and Imitation
Close Reading
The Knowledge of Shamep. 162
Skepticism and Shame
Three Scenes of Shame
Edith Dombey's Shame
Shame and Being Known
Shame and Great Expectations
Shame and Narration
On Lives Unledp. 191
Nailed to Ourselves
Environments for the Optative
The Jamesian Optative
Afterwordp. 219
Notesp. 223
Bibliographyp. 235
Indexp. 251
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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