Victorian Popular Fictions 1.1 1

Victorian Popular Fictions Today: “feel these words as mama does!”

Andrew King

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In two parts, this article first seeks to set an agenda for the study of Victorian popular fictions by examining what the field comprises today in terms of texts studied, methodologies and affective engagement, and then thinking through the implications of studying such fiction in a global and remediated context. I argue that Victorian sentimental popular fiction self-consciously models processes of relationship formation and exploration in its characters, its explicit scenes of reading, and above all in its plots, in order to mould and maintain readers’ relationships to it. “Sympathy” and its interrogation define both the representation of characters’ relations to one another and readers’ relationship to that representation. Sympathy in this understanding is a textual technique used by the fiction industry to create and maintain customer loyalty. Our affective responses to this technique constitute one reason we, as students of a still marginal field, continue to read it with energy and enthusiasm. What we need to do is self-consciously think through the implications of this energy’s rootedness in the commercial imperatives of the nineteenth-century publishing industry and check our pleasures through what neuroaesthetics calls “cognitive elaboration.”  To test that hypothesis, Part 2 offers two case studies of novels by Susan Warner and E.D.E.N. Southworth, both American women writers whose work circulated globally in vast numbers.

Key words

affect, ethics, empathy, sympathy, globalisation, remediation, fiction industry, women writers, E.D.E.N. Southworth, Susan Warner

Date of Acceptance: 25 June 2019

Date of Publication: 30 June 2019

Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Recommended Citation:

King, Andrew. 2019. “Victorian Popular Fictions Today: ‘feel these words as mama does!’” Victorian Popular Fictions. 1.1: 6-34. 

ISSN: 2632-4253 (online).        



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