In Praise of the Minor Character

The Importance of Peripheral Figures in Victorian Literature


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About the Book

Minor characters are everywhere in novels. They linger with readers and invite us into the untold aspects of their lives. They fill a text’s landscape, bringing depth to its ecosystem, and encourage us to shift our thoughts from textual centers to margins and even to consider the minor elements of our own experiences. Minor characters challenge us to hold oppositional perspectives, rethink interdependencies, and reimagine textual and lived relationships. In many ways, we identify with minor characters, and yet we lack a nuanced way of understanding them.
This work is about minor characters and the qualities of “minorness” in Victorian novels. It offers casual readers and scholars alike a method of reading and rereading for minor characters that extends across genres.

About the Author(s)

Grace Pregent is the interim director of the Writing Center at Michigan State University and teaches courses in writing, community engagement, and global studies. She co-directs the Community Writing Center at the East Lansing Public Library and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Bibliographic Details

Grace Pregent
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 202
Bibliographic Info: 14 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8727-8
eISBN: 978-1-4766-5051-7
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface 1
I. Defining and Reading for Minor Characters
1. Minorness and Minor Characters 4
2. Peripheral Voices in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall  33
II. From Narrators and Narratees to Implied Authors and Implied Readers
3. Narrators and Narratees: Boundaries, Bonds, and Minor Characters as Storytellers and Storylisteners 57
4. Empathy and the Process of Making and Receiving Minor Characters 83
III. Real Authors and Real Readers
5. Social Authorship, J.M. Langford, and Very Minor Characters in The Way We Live Now 103
6. Social Readership and the Global Expansiveness of Thomas Hardy’s Minor Characters 131
7. “An Opinion of Ireland”: Thackeray’s Irish Minor Characters in Vanity Fair and The Irish Sketch Book 156
Conclusion 175
Chapter Notes 177
Bibliography 181
Index 189

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Overlooking minor characters in a Victorian novel, as Pregent asserts in this fresh study mingling theory with close readings, risks ignoring their integral part in forming and balancing the fictional world they inhabit. It is here on the sidelines, not necessarily in the plot’s apparent center, that we should search for alternate, oppositional, and diverse voices challenging the nineteenth-century cultural status quo in compelling and deeply human ways.”—Lydia Craig, associate editor of The Charles Dickens Letters Project
  • “This book shows how minor characters are of major importance. Grace Pregent convincingly claims that these characters desire, even deserve, our attention. In Praise of the Minor Character is a timely intervention into recent conversations about narrative form and fiction’s relationship to the real. The focus on overlooked characters draws attention to all sorts of things we overlook as readers—from the authors’ creative processes to the global reach of spaces even in insular novels. After reading this, you will see your beloved Victorian novels in a brilliantly new way. It will be like reading everything for the first time.”—Kristen Pond, Baylor University