Focusing in particular on Wilkie Collins's The Law and the Lady (1875) and Anthony Trollope's Phineas Redux (1873), this essay examines the manner in which Victorian novels grapple with various forms of evidence, ranging from the forensic and detective knowledge of the police to a knowledge of another person's character that is often termed “belief.” The author elaborates the complex role belief plays in British empiricist texts by John Locke and David Hume and in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century treatises on evidences directly influenced by empiricist philosophy, where one could distinguish what one might call a “belief-in-evidence” from a “belief-against-the-evidence.” This essay then demonstrates how episodes of character witness in Victorian legal fictions become venues for addressing the value of belief in others and its complex participation in the attempt to discover truths. Belief, in these novels, is frequently more correct than the evidence marshaled by the police. That this is so often the case suggests an idealistic desire to imagine continuities and forms of knowledge more complete than those accommodated by the epistemology of detection.
Geoffrey Baker; “I Know the Man”: Evidence, Belief, and Character in Victorian Fiction. Genre 1 April 2017; 50 (1): 39–57. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-3761336
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