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Abstract

This article examines Victorian philosophical responses to fictional worlds. It revisits Coleridge’s coinage of the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’, a phrase still taken to be an explanation of the mind’s inner experience of fictionality, before focusing on volition and illusion in John Stuart Mill, G. H. Lewes and James Sully. It ends by positioning these aspects of nineteenth-century intellectual culture in relation to a recent revival of interest in reading practices and ‘cognitive’ literary criticism.