Among the many elements that divert the nineteenth-century novel's plot and characters from achieving their ends—and thus keep such narratives moving—envy occupies a special place. Envy is so psychologically powerful that it often threatens not only to irretrievably derail the prototypical marriage plot but also to undermine one of the novel's principal ethical aims: to develop a capacity for sympathy among characters and readers. Compared with some other emotions, envy has received relatively little literary-critical attention, but its formative place in the psychoanalytic theory of Melanie Klein begins to suggest why it should have such a consequential literary role. Attending to the primitive, destructive, and relational qualities that Klein associates with this affect enables us to identify a literary current of envy—one that elucidates the emotionally violent, socially destructive impulses that psychically inhere in relations among characters as well as between characters and readers. This article charts some of the brutal terms and effects of such envy in three Victorian novels, investigating its psychical, social, and ethical dimensions in Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now, and George Eliot's Middlemarch.
William A. Cohen; Envy and Victorian Fiction. Novel 1 August 2009; 42 (2): 297–303. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2009-018
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