Critics have struggled to account for realist characters’ development on the repetitive timescale of Victorian domestic realism, which is devoted to representing the sameness of daily routine. This essay argues that this struggle stems from literary criticism’s implicit reliance on psychological interiority as the defining criterion for humanlike mimesis. It proposes that we instead look to an alternative theory of seeming human, one based on repetition and routine. Cybernetics, an early form of artificial intelligence, provides a theory of developmental time through the feedback loop. Reading Charlotte M. Yonge’s Daisy Chain (1856) and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters (1866) through the temporal structure of the intelligent machine, this essay argues that these novels imagine new, routinized theories of development. Through the characters’ endless meal planning, sewing, and verse memorizing, an alternate history of realist character emerges: the lifelikeness of automation.
Megan Ward; The Cybernetic Character of Domestic Realism. Genre 1 April 2018; 51 (1): 1–25. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-4365082
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