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"STILL LIVES": GENDER AND THE LITERATURE OF THE VICTORIAN VIVISECTION CONTROVERSY Susan Hamilton University ofAlberta The period generally known as the "fin de siècle" is seen as a time of vigilant patrolling of the decaying borders between genders, races and classes. The increasing "militancy" of the feminist movement the "discovery" of a gay subculture, the establishment of the Labour party, the decUne of empire—each marks a challenge to traditional cultural and poUtical "borders" of race, class and gender, and each was met with vehement oftenviolent opposition.1 Anotherborder contested during this period, but which has received little critical attention, is the border which delineates the "difference" between human and animal bodies. The Victorian vivisection controversy, which began officiaUy in 1873 with the publication of Burdon-Sanderson's Handbook for the Physiological Laboratory, marks one moment when the boundary between "human" and "animal" was both pubUcly debated and institutionaUy defined.2 BiUs for the total aboUtion of vivisection were introduced, and defeated, in the British Parliament every year from 1876—the year of the Cruelty to Animals Act which regulated vivisection—through to 1884 (French 164). This paper initiates an exploration of the work of gender in the Victorian vivisection controversy by focusing specifically on the complementary cultural constructions of the animal body and the female body which appear to structure the discourse of Victorian antivivisectionism. I would Uke to drop you at the beginning, as it were, of antivivsectionism in Victorian England. The following letter was published by Dr. George Hoggan in the February 1, 1875 issue of the Morning Post. In it, Hoggan recounts some of his experiences of vivisection in the laboratory of Claude Bernard. The letter is worth quoting extensively; in its presentation of the dogs vivisected in Bernard's laboratory, Hoggan's letter articulates constructions of both the "victims" of vivisection and the site of vivisection itself which were produced and reproduced in the Victorian Review Yl2 (Winter 1991). 22Victorian Review discourse of the antivivisection movement and which are central to the construction of "woman" deployed within it. The letter partially reads as foUows: I think the saddest sight I ever witnessed was when the dogs were brought up from the ceUar to the laboratory for sacrifice. Instead of appearing pleased with the change from darkness to Ught they seemed seized with horror as soon as they smelt the air of the place, divining apparently their approaching fate. They would make friendly advances to each of the three or four persons present and, as far as eyes, ears, and tail could make a mute appeal for mercy eloquent they tried in vain. Even when roughly grasped and thrown on the torture trough, a low complaining whine at such treatment would be all the protest made, and they would continue to lick the hand that bound them tUl their mouths were fixed in the gag, and they could only flap their tails in the trough as the last means of exciting compassion. Often when convulsed by the pain of their torture this would be renewed, and they would be soothed by receiving a few gentle pats. It was aU the aid or comfort I could give them, and I gave it often. They seemed to take it as an earnest of feUow feeling that would cause their torture to come to an end—an end brought only by death. The presentation of the dogs as innocent faithful companions to humankind who, even when tortured, do not betray by a snap or bite that "feUow feeling" which both binds them in companionship to man and makes them "easy" victims; the almost human comprehension the dogs exhibit in their apparent awareness of what is in store for them; their attempts to appeal to the compassion of the laboratory workers; the presentation of the vivisection laboratory as a chamber of horrors, complete with "torture trough" and dark cellars to house its victims, which must be exposed—these constructions wiU emerge as the staple elements of the rhetoric of the antivivisection movement. The first specificaUy antivivisectionist societies, the Society for the Abolition of Vivisection and the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection, were founded in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 21-34
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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