This article analyses some seminal novels by Dickens, Disraeli, Gaskell, and Kingsley in their relation to developments in society and welfare of the early Victorian period, inferring from them a social discourse that challenged some but not all aspects of classical political economics. It argues that they reveal a view of society as “trisected,” that is as one in which the realms of production, distribution and reproduction are barely regarded as occupying the same conceptual space. So while some aspects of social policy are deplored, e.g. the workhouse, some of the assumptions and values upon which they were based are upheld. Rather than extensive institutional reform these books demand a new set of ethical coordinates which reflect a growing awareness of the interdependencies of individuals.