A study by evolutionary psychologists claims that Victorian novels instilled and promoted values that lasted for generations in British readers. The Guardian states that characters like Mr. Darcy instilled in us a sense of right and wrong, while characters like Heathcliff act as cautionary tales.
The study involved asking 500 academics to rate characters from over 200 classic Victorian novels on the basis of their emotional response to the characters, and discovered that the most highly rated characters mirrored the cooperative nature of a hunter-gatherer society. However, the potential pitfalls of self-reported studies allow questioning of such research.
Anthropologists have noted that oral tales were used by societies to curb and promote certain social behaviours, and novels can have much the same effect by promoting altruism as is the case of Victorian literature in this study.