By Pamela K. Gilbert
Pamela Gilbert argues that well known fiction in mid-Victorian Britain used to be 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, exhibiting that attitudes towards fiction drew on Victorian ideals approximately healthiness, nationality, category and the physique, ideals that the fictions themselves either resisted and exploited.
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Additional resources for Disease, Desire, and the Body in Victorian Women's Popular Novels
They sink, they must sink, into a life on a level with the sights, sounds, aye, the very smells, which surround them... 51 In this passage, we see several pairings at work: the social body and the individual physical body, physical health and moral integrity, mental impressions and physical effects. The compliance of the reader with the directive of the text - to support reform - is motivated in two fairly direct ways: fear of the "dangerous classes," and fear of contamination or moral "contagion" moving upward through society, with its hint of disease (the "very smells").
48 Germs, like literacy, redefined class boundaries. When, in his 1895 article "The Microbe as a Social Leveller," Cyrus Edson reminds his readers: We cannot separate the tenement house district from the portion of the city where the residences of the wealthy stand, and treat this as being a separate locality ... a hundred avenues afford a way by which the contagion may be carried from the tenement to the palace... This is the socialism of the microbe, this is the chain of disease, which binds all the people of the community together,49 he is merely repeating a rather hackneyed commonplace.
11 In 1870, when this particular essay was published, the food adulteration scare Cambridge Books Online © Cambridge University Press, 2009 22 Disease, desire, and the body was much in the press; the author's reference to it once more invokes the anxiety of "poisonous" physical invasion in which an unwitting "consumer" gets more than s/he, literally, bargained for. The apparent mismatch in the analogy is, of course, that one "sees" what one is getting in a text in a way that one might not be able to "see" arsenic in a cake; however, the repeated use of similar images makes quite clear that these writers (and presumably their readers) saw texts as potentially deceptive, slippery substances which could affect the reader without the reader's knowledge or consent, like a poison - or a disease.
Disease, Desire, and the Body in Victorian Women's Popular Novels by Pamela K. Gilbert