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Chapter 3 - Exhibiting Bodies

Museums, Collecting, and Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Literature

from Part I - Epistemologies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 June 2021

Andrew Mangham
Affiliation:
University of Reading
Clark Lawlor
Affiliation:
Northumbria University, Newcastle
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Summary

Anatomy museums were thoroughly scrutinised as institutions that potentially perverted public taste, exhibiting specimens of sexual disease, victims of vanity, and monstrous curiosities. Claims that museums might be sites of titillation were not entirely unfounded; visitors to La Specola in Florence were apt to touch the wax genitalia of the anatomical Venus, while Kahn’s Museum peddled quack cures to visitors’ sexual diseases. In an attempt to combat this, anatomy museums foregrounded the moral and educational aspects of their institutions, places that one could visit to ‘know thyself’. Sensation fiction suffered similar imprecations for exhibiting sexualised bodies. Wilkie Collins’s The Law and the Lady (1875) engages with the excesses and order of anatomical, medical, and museum culture, his novel populated by characters that are simultaneously represented as specimens and curators, with clues collected from worryingly instable pathology, collections of female hair, and sexualised objects. Working with nineteenth-century anxieties about the differences between reputable and contentious displays of anatomy, Collins’s textualised and substitute bodies negotiate the tensions of the anatomy museum. This chapter argues that museums and literature shared similar strategies to make these excessive bodies respectable; narrative was used to order anatomy, making displayed specimens educative instead of titillating.

Type
Chapter
Information
Literature and Medicine
The Nineteenth Century
, pp. 56 - 73
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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