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Literary Criticism Semiotics & Theory

Bad Logic

Reasoning about Desire in the Victorian Novel

by (author) Daniel Wright

Johns Hopkins University Press
Initial publish date
Apr 2018
Semiotics & Theory, General, 19th Century, English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2018
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How did the Victorians think about love and desire?

"Reader, I married him," Jane Eyre famously says of her beloved Mr. Rochester near the end of Charlotte Brontë’s novel. But why does she do it, we might logically ask, after all he’s put her through? The Victorian realist novel privileges the marriage plot, in which love and desire are represented as formative social experiences. Yet how novelists depict their characters reasoning about that erotic desire—making something intelligible and ethically meaningful out of the aspect of interior life that would seem most essentially embodied, singular, and nonlinguistic—remains a difficult question.

In Bad Logic, Daniel Wright addresses this paradox, investigating how the Victorian novel represented reasoning about desire without diluting its intensity or making it mechanical. Connecting problems of sexuality to questions of logic and language, Wright posits that forms of reasoning that seem fuzzy, opaque, difficult, or simply "bad" can function as surprisingly rich mechanisms for speaking and thinking about erotic desire. These forms of "bad logic" surrounding sexuality ought not be read as mistakes, fallacies, or symptoms of sexual repression, Wright asserts, but rather as useful forms through which novelists illustrate the complexities of erotic desire.

Offering close readings of canonical writers Charlotte Brontë, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, and Henry James, Bad Logic contextualizes their work within the historical development of the philosophy of language and the theory of sexuality. This book will interest a range of scholars working in Victorian literature, gender and sexuality studies, and interdisciplinary approaches to literature and philosophy.

About the author

Daniel Wright is an assistant professor of English at the University of Toronto.

Daniel Wright's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"It is this attention to erotic energies and their struggle for articulacy that makes Bad Logic such a compelling intervention into a number of current debates in Victorian studies, and a striking declaration of fiction's wider philosophical exigency."

Times Higher Education

"Deploying a confident command of philosophical logic alongside an ear well attuned to moments of textual vulnerability, Wright offers a compelling account of the ways we twist the language of reason when "we're called up to make our erotic impulses intelligible to others or to ourselves"... Bad Logic is, at its core, a book of deep generosity. Where I had often seen stammer and bluster, or overly pat aphorism, Wright hears searching, and sacred, attempts to communicate. Beyond just offering readings, Bad Logic teaches how to listen... Bad Logic has given me a vocabulary for describing the ways in which the language of novels work when they are at their most tenuous and vulnerable."

Victorian Studies