Palaeolithic Politics in British Novels of the Nineteenth Century

Joseph Carroll, Jonathan Gottschall, John A. Johnson and Daniel Kruger

in Creating Consilience

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199794393
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919338 | DOI:

Series: New Directions in Cognitive Science

Palaeolithic Politics in British Novels of the Nineteenth Century

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Two literary scholars joined company with two psychologists to put together an online survey of characters in Victorian novels. They listed about 2,000 characters from 200 novels, contacted hundreds of scholars and readers of the novels, and obtained nearly 600 respondents. With multiple responses from individual respondents, they received more than 1,500 “codings” on several hundred characters. For each character selected, the respondents were asked to give numerical ratings on motives and personality features, to give ratings on their own emotional responses to the characters, and to assign characters to roles as protagonists, antagonists, or minor characters. Standard statistical procedures were used to analyze the results and produced a book manuscript on the nature and significance of the agonistic structure in the novels. Detailed results for several novels in which major characters received multiple codings were also provided. The researchers anticipated two chief kinds of criticism: firstly, that it isn't possible or legitimate to reduce human nature to a few basic or universal categories; and, secondly, that the elements of human nature are so well known and understood that using them in the way we do can only reproduce the self-evident. Besides simply pointing to the fact that these two criticisms cancel one another out, the chapter explains how and why it is possible and legitimate to reduce human nature to a few basic, universal categories, and also how those categories can be used to reach new and important insights into the novels.

Keywords: literary Darwinism; empirical literary research; evolutionary psychology; human nature; literature; Victorian novels

Chapter.  11538 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy

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