Although Charles Reade was one of the most popular novelists of his day, he has gone the way of many other writers whose critical standing suffered because of their reliance on melodrama and sensationalism. His 1856 novel, It Is Never Too Late to Mend, which propelled Reade to fame, has received some limited attention, but critics tend to ignore the Australia plot in favor of the progressive social critique contained in the prison plot. This essay argues for the narrative power and significance of the Australia plot as the site of Reade's critique of epistemological certainty. First, I look at how nineteenth-century epistemology was connected to empire and the bildungsroman. Second, I examine the contrasting epistemologies of Robinson and George and trace how Robinson's flexible epistemology is connected to his transformation. Finally, I highlight a series of reversals at the novel's conclusion that revise the basis for progress in the bildungsroman and challenge the inflexibility of English perception. This essay positions Reade's novel as an important example of the complexity of Victorian epistemological perspectives. It also identifies Reade's revisions to the bildungsroman as an important aesthetic component of his narrative style and key part of his social reform.
“'Tis the Mind That Sees Things”: Flexible Epistemology as Social Reform in Charles Reade's It Is Never Too Late to Mend
kristen a. pond teaches eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British literature at Baylor University. Her research focuses on the development of the novel, the rhetoric and ethics of sympathy, and gender studies. Her work appears in Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Victorian Literature and Culture, Victorian Institute Journal, Nineteenth-Century Literature, Brontë Studies, and Victorian Review. Her current book project examines the figure of the stranger in Victorian literature and culture.
Kristen A. Pond; “'Tis the Mind That Sees Things”: Flexible Epistemology as Social Reform in Charles Reade's It Is Never Too Late to Mend. Dickens Studies Annual 1 September 2018; 49 (2): 429–450. doi: https://doi.org/10.5325/dickstudannu.49.2.0429
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