In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviews Anna Krugovoy Silver. Victorian Literature andtheAnorexicBody (Cambridge : Cambridge U.P., 2002), 220 pp. Anna Krugovoy Silver's opening argument that anorexia nervosa is "deeply rooted in Victorian values, ideologies, and aesthetics, which together helped define femininity in the nineteenth century" (3) leaves the reader expecting a clever twist on, new expansion or even radical deconstruction ofthis same thesis - an expectation which the book does not quite fulfil. For despite its rich and promising subject ofenquiry, Victorian Uterature andtheAnorexicBody succeeds more in presenting a cohesive survey offamiliar arguments than it does in intervening within the field ofVictorian studies or providing a suggestive new framework within which to analyse literary and cultural texts. In the introductory chapter, Silver promises to conduct a dual project: to "analyse how images ofhunger and appetite work within particular texts and what they signify within those texts" and second to "relate those texts to popular culture at large" (3). She embarks, then, on a classically New Historicist examination ofthe motif of anorexia nervosa within selected works of literature. Past scholarship has already conducted such an examination in various arenas, and the strength of the book lies perhaps in its synthesis ofdiscussions offemale consumption in familiar sources such as "Goblin Market," Alice'sAdventures in Wonderland, Shirley, Vilktte, Trilby and Dracula rather than its opening up new avenues of exploration. The introductory chapter summarises twentieth-century psychoanalytic and cultural theories of anorexia. It then juxtaposes these with select passages from nineteenth-century conduct books such as Sarah Stickney Ellis' Daughters ofEnglandand concludes Victorian Review (2003)87 Reviews that "dieting was a fairly commonplace occurrence among Victorian women" and that "women controlled their food intake in order to conform to Victorian proscriptions about feminine behaviour and the ferrtinine 'character'" - specifically the association of the slender body with sexual purity and middle to upper-middle class status (12). Silver proceeds to examine the motifofanorexia firstly within nonfictional literature, and then within selected literary works. Chapter One, by forefronting descriptions of female consumption in conduct books, beauty manuals and medical texts, establishes the existence ofa Victorian beauty myth that privileged the slender body and illustrates the extent to which this myth permeated different discourses. In the next four chapters, Silver uses this myth to identify similar thematics at work in fictional pieces. Chapter Two examines excerpts from the popular journal The Girl's Own Paperin order to prove the existence of disorderly eating among young girls. Silver garners interesting and often shocking testimonials from young women battling to subject their bodies to a slender ideal. The chapter goes on to describe the ways in which the works ofJohn Ruskin, Kate Greenaway and Lewis Carroll support this conclusion. The strength of this chapter lies in its illustrative use ofrelatively unfamiliar children's texts. However, the entertaining interest afforded by quotations gleaned from texts such as "The Little Glutton" fails to salvage the chapter's weaknesses: chiefly, the traditional and uncomplicated designation of such works as "children's literature" and the identification of this literature's aims as the socialisation of children. The discussion moves from an assessment ofhow Ruskin's "The Ethics ofDust" and Greenawa/s illustrations ofyoung girls privilege and eroticise a pre-pubescent purity over an adult sexuality to how the maturation ofthe female from girl to woman is linked to appetite in Carroll's Alice'sAdventures in Wonderlandand Through the Uoking-Glass. Silver posits that Carroll uses images ofappetite to denigrate physical maturation, and punishes female aggression when it turns from the more acceptable infantile outbreaks to a more adult manifestation. Surprisingly, given her concentration on Greenaway's illustrations, Silver chooses not to 88volume 29 number 1 Reviews discuss the even more fascinating illustrations that accompany and, arguably, influence the reception ofCarroll's texts. Chapter Three juxtaposes Charlotte Bronte's use of female hunger to criticise women's roles with Charles Dickens' treatment ofhunger as a token ofselflessness and spirituality. According to Silver, Bronte's heroines write their unspeakable desires on die surface of the body and, through their restricted eating and manipulation ofbody size, protest against the social constructions that enforce their silence. Despite the negative connotations of starvation, though, Bronte privileges such suffering over an engagement in...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 87-91
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.