Thomas Albrecht Responds to Daniel Pollack-Pelzner
As Daniel mentions, Good Form addresses the important question of how and why present-day readers and writers so readily take Victorian fiction as a point of identification, easily recognizing themselves in it, assimilating its forms into their own world view, projecting themselves onto it.
And Good Form, Daniel rightly notes, also complicates any too facile understanding of this assimilation by the literary present of the Victorian past. One noteworthy complication is Rosenthal’s counterintuitive argument that the Victorian past, and specifically what he calls moral intuitionism, is what assimilates us to it and its worldview, not vice versa. Moral intuitionism, Rosenthal maintains, continually projects itself, and its formal structures and ethical values, onto us, onto our way of writing and reading narrative today, of responding emotionally and critically to narrative. This leads him to conclude, genealogically, that intuitionism is “what we are” (195).
Daniel praises Good Form for revealing how the seemingly free choices made by literary characters and literary scholars are fundamentally constrained. To me, a disheartening insight of Rosenthal’s book is that free ethical judgments, which Daniel posits as potential antidotes to forces like misogyny, oppressive rhetoric, and trauma, are themselves constrained too, into the form of certain narrative structures and outcomes, and into the emotions those structures and outcomes elicit. As Rosenthal argues, we have effectively repressed the Victorian origins, as well as the ideological and possibly normative dimensions, of the forms and intuitions as which our ethical insights take shape. But his book is an enlightening reminder.