The Physiology of the Novel: Reading and Cognition in Victorian Fiction


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships


English and Comparative Literature


This project is an analysis of the Victorian novel's vital role in shaping modern cognitive reading habits, including: a discontinuous form of attention-span (intermittency); a rhythmic mode of encountering duration (periodicity); a fragmented grasp of isolated units of information (discontinuity); and an increasingly rapid pace of comprehension (acceleration). The project juxtaposes the novel with parallel cognitive experiences of the nineteenth century—symphonic and operatic form, telegraphic communication, speed reading—in order to create a specific account of the Victorian novel's cognitive demands, and to better understand its status as a key episode in the history of modern cognition.