Disease, Desire, and the Body in Victorian Women's Popular by Pamela K. Gilbert

By Pamela K. Gilbert

Pamela Gilbert argues that renowned fiction in mid-Victorian Britain was once considered as either female and diseased. She discusses paintings by way of 3 renowned ladies novelists of the time: M. E. Braddon, Rhoda Broughton and "Ouida". Early and later novels of every author are interpreted within the context in their reception, displaying that attitudes towards fiction drew on Victorian ideals approximately wellbeing and fitness, nationality, type and the physique, ideals that the fictions themselves either resisted and exploited.

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There is a pleasure being derived from the supposedly necessary scrutiny of such horrors; in some sense, these textual re-productions of the literal and figurative "refuse" of society are being packaged and sold to an eager middle-class consumership — in short, not to put too fine a point on it, shit makes good copy. Thus the misery of the exploited classes itself can be exploited and turned to account. (Writers like Dickens both exploit this market and critique it with their harrowing and graphic accounts; consider the equation of the dustheaps with gold in Our Mutual Friend) The prostituted body and the diseased, contagious body have much in common; both are grotesque, that is, defined by their openings, their lower bodily strata, their discharges.

Fiction, like contagion, might become the vehicle by which important physical boundaries were breached: distinctions between subject and object, upper and lower bodily strata, upper and lower class, masculine and feminine, food and filth, mother and whore. Certain kinds of fiction were naturally targeted for more surveillance than others; much of this was class-based and perhaps the strongest censure was reserved for morally unacceptable literature with blatantly "lower-class" properties which had yet infiltrated middle-class markets.

A COMPLICATED AFFAIR: GENDERED AUTHORS, TEXTS AND READERS In addition to the fear of "contamination" and the attempt to legislate against the diseased erotic body that marked the latter portion of the nineteenth century, gender issues surrounding the interaction of author, text, and reader must be considered. The excerpts above display a relatively uncomplicated scenario including a male reader and a female text. This posits a masterful and exploitive reader who need only be careful not to allow the wanton text to drain his virility through overindulgence.

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