This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book begins with the earliest novels commonly labeled realist, the novels of Jane Austen and continues with an analysis of literary physiognomics in the Victorian realist novel. It proceeds to investigate physiognomic discourse in the first and final novel by Charlotte Bronte, The Professor and Villette, two texts that lend themselves to comparison because of their similar plots and the numerous physiognomic and phrenological portraits they both contain. The book argues that Bronte's invariably affirmative stance toward physiognomics and phrenology incorporates the double-edged consequences of physiognomic interpretation: self-improvement and self-help ideology on the one hand, and racial discrimination on the other. It addresses the rendering of physiognomics in two novels by Joseph Conrad, written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century: his debut novel, Almayer's Folly, and his highly ironic spy novel, The Secret Agent.