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In the nineteenth century the corpse became central to medical education. In Britain, a growing number of private medical schools opened throughout the country, involving the rise of the demand for dead bodies. It is exactly around the same time that Gothic fiction was revamped and offered insights into the debates around medical practice and education. This chapter explores the links between the field of anatomy and the development of Gothic fiction in Britain in the nineteenth century. It points out how the Gothic dealt with medical practitioners’ treatment of the corpse and how Gothic narratives dramatised the tension between the stealing, cutting up, preservation, and exhibition of human remains in medical collections and the central part played by anatomical knowledge in medical science. By looking at texts by John Galt, Mary Shelley, and Samuel Warren, as well as Wilkie Collins and Robert Louis Stevenson, this chapter not only shows how literary texts capitalised on the Gothic paraphernalia to foreground the regulation (or lack thereof) of the practice of anatomy before the passing of the 1832 Anatomy Act, but also highlights how the Gothic enabled authors to record cultural responses to medical practice throughout the century.
Though the history of sexuality has diversified and enlarged our understanding of Victorian culture and practices, literary criticism, influenced by the courtship plots of canonical novels, has lagged behind. Even as we denounced a generation of historians and scholars for thinking Victorians were repressed, we canonized a literature based on heteronormative courtship narratives and traditional gender roles. We then critiqued that literature for adhering to – or championed it for subverting – those traditional narratives. In fact, Victorian fiction was always wilder and woollier than we gave it credit for being. Drawing on multiple novels, including examples by Wilkie Collins, William Ainsworth, and George Meredith, as well as the history of sexuality, including texts by Elizabeth Blackwell and Havelock Ellis, this essay surveys instances in which non-reproductive sexuality – pre- and extramarital flirtations, same-sex eroticism, desirous ephebes, and other kinds of non-genital or unconsummated sexual activities – are presented as typical behaviors within the novel. Just as conventional marital plots provide form for instances of what scholars have understood as managed desire, these texts suggest other formal possibilities and properties – rather than arcs of crisis and resolution, they may offer more episodic structures of sustained, oscillating, or unresolved tensions.
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.
“On Time: How Fiction Writes History in Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone,” shows how the novel subtly reinforces the principles put forth in the judicial opinion. Written just five years after Ramaswamy Aiyan v. Venkata Achari was decided by the Privy Council, The Moonstone reflects many similar concerns with centering English modernity, especially by way of comparison with colonies such as India. I show how the novel invokes oppositional teleologies for India and Britain, often playing up sectarian tensions and Brahminism in the Indian context. As the narrative of the mystery moves steadily forward, reflecting the teleology of British progress, the temporality of India remains stubbornly stagnant. Finally, folding the present into the past, the gem, the deity, and the devotees end up exactly where they began, oblivious to the linear narrative of history and impervious to the forward movement of time. More specifically, the novel’s mystery genre works to naturalize a teleological narrative of history that solidifies the relationship between the restorative British present and the stalled Indian past. As the mystery unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that the temporality of the novel is intimately related to the teleology of a colonialist vision of history.
This chapter continues the book’s analysis of sensation fiction to consider Wilkie Collins’s No Name (1862), with its actress antiheroine Magdalen, together with the memoirs of actresses as focal texts for examining wayward identification in a theatrical context. The figure of the actress dramatized the Victorian conception of female psychology as naturally fluid, apt to identify with and conform to the shapes of others’ personalities. While this supposedly made women better actresses, it also seemed to threaten the stability of the actress’s own “authentic” self. Charlotte Brontë’s immortalization of the actress Rachel as Vashti in Villette exemplifies this paradoxical perception of the era’s most prominent and powerful actresses as fragile vessels. While No Name spotlights the physical and psychic repercussions of Magdalen’s various dramatic roles, it never represents acting as the uncontrolled effluence of passion or even as self-forgetfulness. No Name casts its actress anti-heroine as a subject who is indestructible because of her imaginative mobility. She thus aligns with accounts of Victorian professional actresses who represent their identification with characters as a deliberate and habitual exercise instead of subjection through relinquishing agency.
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