Inappropriate Sympathies in Gaskell and Eliot

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In previous chapters, this book has suggested that capitalism is a space structured by moral irony, and that in capitalist society individual actions are not supposed to be judged on the basis of their immediate effects or the possibly evil intentions of the agent, but rather within a field that encompasses those actions’ many possible unintended consequences. The realist novels analysed here proceed from the premise (implied in Smith’s figure of the invisible hand) that a true understanding of moral action in this kind of social space requires a composite vision that somehow takes into account both the individual and an overview of the whole social system, and work out the implications of this vision by playing with different narrative forms. The discussion of these novels in Part II began with the question of genre, showing how Austen and Dickens attempt to encompass both fields of vision by toggling between the Gothic and realism (in Northanger Abbey) or between omniscient and self-consciously innocent narrators (in Bleak House). The next chapter proposed that one characteristic result of viewing individual tragedies as trivial from the point of view of the whole system is a mood of tortured irony, both in the somewhat strained triumphalism of Martineau’s Illustrations of Political Economy and in Dickens’s bitter rebellion against it in Hard Times. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair offers a more ludic kind of tortured irony in its combination of an abstract compassion with consistent mockery of both individual delusion and narratorial authority.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPalgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages24
StatePublished - 2011

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture
ISSN (Print)2634-6494
ISSN (Electronic)2634-6508


  • Class Character
  • Impartial Spectator
  • Invisible Hand
  • Moral Sentiment
  • Political Economy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory


Dive into the research topics of 'Inappropriate Sympathies in Gaskell and Eliot'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this