Complicating a pervasive view of the ethical thought of the Victorians and their close relations, which emphasizes the domineering influence of a righteous and repressive morality, Wainwright discerns a new orientation towards an expansive ethics of flourishing or living well in Austen, Gaskell, Dickens, Eliot, Hardy and Forster. In a sequence of remarkable novels by these authors, Wainwright traces an ethical perspective that privileges styles of life that are worthy and fulfilling, admirable and rewarding. Presenting new research into the ethical debates in which these authors participated, this rigorous and energetic work reveals the ways in which ideas of major theorists such as Kant, F. H. Bradley, or John Stuart Mill, as well as those of now little-known writers such as the priest Edward Tagart, the preacher William Maccall, and philanthropist Helen Dendy Bosanquet, were appropriated and reappraised. Further, Wainwright seeks also to place these novelists within the wider context of modernity and proposes that their responses can be linked to the on-going and animated discussions that characterize modern moral philosophy.
’Here is a solid, well-researched and clearly-presented argument on the ethical theories and presuppositions which affected the writing, the reading and the reviewing of a range of writers… The book is underpinned by very extensive reading indeed… Individual chapters each yield provocative readings, but best of all is the book's progress towards the present and the infuriating unwillingness of the authors' texts to sit still while we use it to perceive, or to reinforce, or to attack ethical positions. It is a book to re-read and to send the reader into new reading.’ The Gaskell Society Journal