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Reviews81 Hewitt, M. "Radicalism and the Victorian Working Class: the case of Samuel Bamford", Historical Journal, 34, 4 (1991), 873-92. Watkin, A.E. (ed.) Absolom Watkin: extractsfrom his journal, 1814-56, (1920). Miriam Bailin. The Sickroom in Victorian Fiction: The Art ofBeing III Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature I. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. ix + 169. $49.95 US (cloth). Miriam Bailin argues convincingly that a deep significance inheres in the many representations of the sickroom appearing in Victorian fiction, — that as there is "an art of being ill" in the period, there is a corresponding art of using that illness for Uterary purposes. She draws on non-fictional accounts of illness to support her contention that the sickroom functions as a privileged, isolated space, which is both a retreat from the problems and conflicts of Victorian society, and a place where such conflicts can be tackled and resolved. She focuses not upon the institutional, but upon the sickroom's place within the middle-class domestic sphere (and domestic realism). BaiUn perceives a shaping influence upon the structure of Victorian fictional narratives in the desire for the calm and healing influence of the sickroom, and she traces the various narrative effects of this desire in the fiction of Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, and George EUot Bailin's first chapter, "Life in the Sickroom" (after Harriet Martineau's book of the same name) presents an excellent historical and cultural context for the fictional accounts of the period. The representation of the sickroom as haven (found in both fiction and nonfiction ) and the "transformation of suffering into balm" (6), Bailin notes, is all the more remarkable when one considers the pain and danger involved in nineteenth-century medical treatments. Bailin asserts that, in Ufe and Uterature, relations between the patient and nurse were intimate, informal, and had a shared meaning unusual outside of the sickroom walls, creating an ideal alternative community within its confines. The tending of the sick was envisioned as a primary and instinctive duty of the domestic angel, and was seen as a practical measure of genuine affection. To emphasize this, the paid nurse of Victorian fiction is often reviled or mercilessly satirized. Illness also allowed for the socially condoned relaxation of rigid behavioral codes, and partly explains the "cult of ill-health" that existed alongside the middle-class imperatives ofself-discipline, will-power, and industriousness. 82 Victorian Review Perhaps most importantly, however, BaiUn links the presentation of the sickroom in fiction to the aims and subject matter of reaUsm, as, like illness, it posed questions about the relation of mind to body, individual to coUective, and causaUty. The language of realism certainly aspired to that of the fictional sickroom, where the patient's incoherence is immediately and whoUy understood by the nurse. Although Bailin is careful not to impose a specifically gendered construction of illness in her analysis, she does acknowledge that the patient and nurse (posited as aspects of one self) and the nature of the conflicts with which they deal, are undeniably related to the roles and representations of Victorian women. Both sickness and nursing were primary modes of self-expression open to the middle-class woman. It is within this context that BaiUn includes a fascinating section on Florence Nightingale's effective exploitations of the positions of nurse and patient in the pursuit of her reform of the nursing profession. This section is used by BaiUn to demonstrate that "the use of illness to transform the given and to heal self-division continually crosses the boundary between the Uterary and the actual" (30). Charlotte Bronte figures highly in Bailin's analysis of Victorian Uterary manifestations of illness. Shirley is used to display the ways in which the sickroom figures as a refuge in the often fatalistic framework of Bronte's novels. "[Sjomatic disorder becomes the primary form of self-assertion, convalescence the measure of comfort, and physical dependency the enabling condition for intimacy" (48-9). BaiUn sees an interesting connection between women and workers in Shirley, and notes that the parallel breaks down in their strategies of resistance — the workers' violent rebelUon contrasting to Caroline's socially accepted retreat into passivity and illness. CaroUne...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 81-83
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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