Creating character

Theories of nature and nurture in Victorian sensation fiction

By Helena Ifill

Creating character


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-7849-9513-3
  • Pages: 240
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £75.00
  • Published Date: February 2018
  • BIC Category: Literature, United Kingdom, Great Britain, Literature: history & criticism, Literary theory, Literary studies: fiction, novelists & prose writers, Literary studies: c 1800 to c 1900, Ireland, LITERARY CRITICISM / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, LITERARY CRITICISM / General, Literature & literary studies / Literary theory, Literature & literary studies / Literary studies: fiction, novelists & prose writers, Literature & literary studies / Literary studies: c 1800 to c 1900
  • Series: Interventions: Rethinking the Nineteenth Century


This book explores the ways in which the two leading sensation authors of the 1860s, Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Wilkie Collins, engaged with nineteenth-century ideas about personality formation and the extent to which it can be influenced either by the subject or by others. Innovative readings of seven sensation novels explore how they employ and challenge Victorian theories of heredity, degeneration, inherent constitution, education, upbringing and social circumstance. Far from presenting a reductive depiction of 'nature' versus 'nurture', Braddon and Collins show the creation of character to be a complex interplay of internal and external factors. Drawing on material ranging from medical textbooks, to sociological treatises, to popular periodicals, Creating character shows how sensation authors situated themselves at the intersections of established and developing, conservative and radical, learned and sensationalist thought about how identity could be made and modified.


'There is much to admire about Ifill's project and its execution. The archival work that grounds it is extensive and thorough. The contexts within which she places these novels are well-chosen and deftly depicted; her study of the theories of mind and personhood to which Braddon and Collins respond amounts to a small intellectual history of its own. Ifill's close readings are careful and attentive.'
Marta Figlerowicz is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and English at Yale University, Review 19


Helena Ifill is a member of the School of English at the University of Sheffield


Part I: Self-control, willpower and monomania
1. Basil and No Name
2. John Marchmont's Legacy
Part II: Heredity and degeneration
3. The Lady Lisle
4. Armadale
Part III: Education, environment and circumstance
5. Man and Wife
6. Lost for Love

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