One of Olive Schreiner’s favorite verbs, it turns out, was internet. S. Pearl Brilmyer’s fascinating new book, The Science of Character, embeds Victorian realist fiction in a range of then-active philosophical and scientific debates that led away from a concept of character as an interiorized subjectivity. Realist character, for Brilmyer, was an emergent phenomenon, the product of networks of geometrical, electrochemical, evolutionary, and cultural forces. Linked to Marxist traditions in novel criticism as well as to the priorities of new materialism, this book aims to find “the object within the subject” by highlighting a set of materialist concepts that function at both subjective and objective levels: “plasticity, impressibility, spontaneity, impulsivity, relationality, and vitality” (6). Doing rare justice to the vast range of reference available to Victorian writers, as well as to the more recent theoretical turns that inherit their obsessions, Brilmyer showcases the accelerating reconceptualizations of character during...

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