Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 June 2021
This essay investigates how and why physical ‘wholeness’ became culturally dominant in the nineteenth century, and how literary representations of prosthetics engaged with this hegemony. The first part parses the historical factors underpinning the rise of physical ‘normalcy’, including coalescing theories that drew together mind and body, the rise of bodily statistics, lingering fears of contagion, changes to the Poor Laws, unshifting gendered social demands, and the marketing efforts of emerging prosthetists. The second part then turns to transgressive literary imaginaries of prostheses. Using two fictional case studies that represent artificial-hand users, English poet, novelist, and playwright Robert Williams Buchanan’s ‘Lady Letitia’s Lilliput Hand’ (1862) and the lesser-known short-story writer T. Lockhart’s ‘Prince Rupert’s Emerald Ring’ (1895), I argue that literary representations of prostheses often simultaneously reinforced and complicated the hegemony of physical ‘completeness’. Such stories perpetuated fears of physical disaggregation while also bringing into question the efficacy of prostheticising. This essay therefore offers an innovative approach to Victorian studies and the history of prostheses by re-evaluating attitudes to artificial body parts in relation to the social mandate for ‘wholeness’ and highlighting how literary texts provided important critiques of prostheses designed to enable users to ‘pass’ as ‘normal’.