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Spirit Becomes Matter

The Brontes, George Eliot, Nietzsche

Henry Staten

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Traces the development of critical moral psychology in the central novels of the Brontës and George Eliot

This book explains how, under the influence of the new 'mental materialism' that held sway in mid-Victorian scientific and medical thought, the Brontës and George Eliot in their greatest novels broached a radical new form of novelistic moral psychology. This was one no longer bound by the idealizing presuppositions of traditional Christian moral ideology, and, as Henry Staten argues, is closely related to Nietzsche’s physiological theory of will to power (itself directly influenced by Herbert Spencer). On this reading, Staten suggests, the Brontës and George Eliot participate, with Flaubert, Baudelaire, and Nietzsche, in the beginnings of the modernist turn toward a strictly naturalistic moral psychology, one that is 'non-moral' or 'post-moral'.M/p>


Author’s Preface
Series Editor’s Preface
I: Victorian Physio-Psychology and Nietzsche
II: Critical Moral Psychology in the Novels
1. The Poisoned Gift of Forgiveness in Jane Eyre
2. Subincision of the Ethical Subject (Middlemarch)
3. What Things Cost in Middlemarch
4. The Return to the Heath (Wuthering Heights)
5. Spirit Becomes Matter

About the Author

Henry Staten is Byron W. and Alice L. Lockwood Professor in the Humanities and Professor of English and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of Washington. Although he was originally trained as a Victorianist, his acclaimed first book, Wittgenstein and Derrida, was one of the first philosophical commentaries on deconstruction. Since then his work has ranged widely across literature and philosophy from the Greeks through modernism. In 1998 he received the for an outstanding essay in PMLA.


This wonderfully illuminating book presents the best, most detailed, readings I know of Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, and Wuthering Heights. Basing his approach on a brilliant reading of Nietzsche’s "physio-psychology" in its intellectual context, Staten shows, against critical tradition, that these novels dramatize the new materialist biological morality of life energy.

J. Hillis Miller, Comparative Literature and English, University of California, Irvine

Spirit Becomes Matter is a brilliantly innovative book. It will henceforth be required reading for those interested in these three novels, in Victorian novels generally, and in Victorian intellectual history.

- J. Hillis Miller, Modern Language Quarterly: A Journal of Literary History

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