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Fictions of Affliction

Physical Disability in Victorian Culture

Martha Stoddard Holmes

Publication Year: 2004

Highly recommended . . . Holmes moves seamlessly from novelists like Charles Dickens to sociologists like Henry Mayhew to autobiographers like John Kitto. ---Choice "An absolutely stunning book that will make a significant contribution to both Victorian literary studies and disability studies." ---Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Emory University "Establishes that Victorian melodrama informs many of our contemporary notions of disability . . . We have inherited from the Victorians not pandemic disability, but rather the complex of sympathy and fear." ---Victorian Studies Tiny Tim, Clym Yeobright, Long John Silver---what underlies nineteenth-century British literature's fixation with disability? Melodramatic representations of disability pervaded not only novels, but also doctors' treatises on blindness, educators' arguments for "special" education, and even the writing of disabled people themselves. Drawing on extensive primary research, Martha Stoddard Holmes introduces readers to popular literary and dramatic works that explored culturally risky questions like "can disabled men work?" and "should disabled women have babies?" and makes connections between literary plots and medical, social, and educational debates of the day. Martha Stoddard Holmes is Associate Professor of Literature and Writing Studies at California State University, San Marcos.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Corporealities: Discourses of Disability


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p. xv

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pp. 1-15

Every December, countless people across the United States watch this scene from hard seats in high school auditoriums or from comfortable living-room couches in front of flickering TV screens. For many, the annual resurrection of A Christmas Carol is an occasion for enjoying the worry that Tim will die, ...

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1 Melodramatic Bodies

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pp. 16-33

A first step toward discussion of specific texts is to particularize the meaning of "melodrama" and the concept of emotional excess that is central both to it and to contemporary discourses of disability. Critics have already anatomized melodrama's shifting shapes, its relations to other popular dramatic and literary forms, ...

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2 Marital Melodramas: Disabled Women and Victorian Marriage Plots

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pp. 34-73

A useful understanding of the melodramatization of disability demands local analysis. What kinds of characters and plots show up often—or never? If certain disabled figures are indeed melodramatic, what purposes does the emotional excess they carry serve in the plot and in the larger culture? ...

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3 "My Old Delightful Sensation:" Wilkie Collins and the Disabling of Melodrama

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pp. 74-93

Wilkie Collins was one of the two most prolific producers of disabled characters in Victorian literature, along with his friend, colleague, collaborator, and competitor Charles Dickens. While critics and biographers have narrated Collins's interest in disability as purely personal, the manifestation of his own experiences ...

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4 An Object for Compassion, An Enemy to the State: Imagining Disabled Boys and Men

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pp. 94-132

The distinction between abled and disabled bodies in Victorian culture (and our own) was produced partly in terms of the distinction between men and women and beliefs about what "naturally" characterized each gender; the place where the two distinctions overlap is often the place where the meaning of disability ...

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5 Melodramas of the Self: Auto/biographies of Victorians with Physical Disabilities

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pp. 133-190

A satisfactory autobiographical narrative—mental, spoken, written—can function as a critical form of self-preservation during the disruptions or transformations of self that are sometimes produced by bodily and other changes, disability included. Perhaps more significantly, autobiography can articulate ...

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pp. 191-196

Thomas Elsaesser has observed that the popularity of melodrama and other "romantic" dramas "coincides with periods of intense social and ideological crisis" (45). The particular nineteenth-century crises most critics identify as pertinent to melodrama are those of women and the poor, ...

Appendix: Physically Disabled Characters in Nineteenth-Century British Literature

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pp. 197-200


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pp. 201-210

Works Cited

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pp. 211-222


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pp. 223-228

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025961
E-ISBN-10: 0472025961
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472068418
Print-ISBN-10: 0472068415

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 8 B&W photographs
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: Corporealities: Discourses of Disability
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OCLC Number: 300839856
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Fictions of Affliction