Invalidism and Identity in Nineteenth-Century Britain by Maria H. Frawley, and: Fictions of Affliction: Physical Disability in Victorian Culture by Martha Stoddard Holmes (review)
- Victorian Review
- Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada
- Volume 32, Number 2, 2006
- pp. 92-96
- Additional Information
Reviews relatively pedestrian conclusions: that Elizabeth Butler, for example, "shared other artist's racial and national prejudices" (159). Finally, it is surprising and unfortunate that, in a sophisticated and extremely carefully researched work about the contested nature ofconstructed national identities, the terms "British" and "English" should repeatedly be used as interchangeable synonyms. Despite these objections, The Victorian Artist is an intelligent work which will undoubtedly be ofconsiderable use to art historians, literary scholars and students ofprint culture. Benedict Fullalove Alberta College ofArt & Design DDDDDDDDDDDD Maria H. Frawley. Invalidism andIdentity in Nineteenth-Century Britain. (Chicago: Chicago UP, 2004), viii + 292 pp. Martha Stoddard Holmes. Fictions ofAffliction: PhysicalDisability in Victorian Culture. (Ann Arbor: Michigan UP, 2004), xiv + 228 pp. Two recent studies of illness and disability, Maria Frawley's Invalidism and Identity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Martha Stoddard Holmes's Fictions ofAffliction: Physical Disability in Victorian Culture, testify to the growth in interest in the cultural significance ofbodies that fall outside ofVictorian standards of health, vitality, ability and productivity. In her comprehensive study of the significance of invalidism for nineteenthcentury culture, Frawley answers Roy Porter's call for a history of medicine that is patient-centred. She also adds to existing scholarship on illness and literature, most notably Miriam Bailin's The Sickroom in Victorian Fiction: The Art ofBeing III (1994). Frawley's central goal is, however, the development ofa more precise and complex definition ofinvalidism, a concept frequently employed in relation to Victorian culture but rarely scrutinized. Arguing for the existence ofa "culture ofinvalidism," a culture shaped by historical forces such as Evangelicalism, industrialization and transformations in medical practice, Frawley assigns the vaguely defined but very familiar figure ofthe Victorian invalid a new kind ofsocial significance (31). According to Frawley, the invalid "tapped into and expressed deep92volume 32 number 2 Reviews seated societal doubts—doubts not only about medicine's potential to cure, but more fundamentally about progress and mobility, both master narratives of nineteenth-century culture"(5). The capacity of the invalid to challenge or "unsettle," to create conflict rather than resolving it, is central to her study (6). She explains: "Signifying not simply a medical condition or exclusively a social role, invalidism might more profitably be thought ofas cultural mentality, a mode of thought that shaped and a posture that expressed the way men and women conceptualized, experienced, and represented a wide range ofafflictions" (3). Responses to these afflictions are as varied as the afflictions themselves. Frawley provides detailed commentary on some ofthese responses, most notably hypochondria, hydrotherapy, Evangelicism, climatology, health-centred tourism and mesmerism. Frawley is, however, primarily interested in textual responses to illness and invalidism. Drawing on an array ofinvalid narratives—texts written by, about and for invalids, among them Harriet Martineau's Life in the Sick-Room and John Addington Symond's Memoirs —Frawley not only demonstrates the prominence of the invalid in nineteenth-century culture but also shows how invalid narratives constitute a genre defined by unique rhetorical and linguistic conventions. Her analysis ofthis genre convincingly maps ways in which invalid narratives construct invalids as objects of cultural preoccupation and identify ill individuals with a range ofattributes, experiences, social responsibilities and sexual identities. For Frawley, invalid narratives, whether private or published, by major figures or minor ones, offer insight into the perceived duties and responsibilities ofthe invalid, as well as their relation to religious authority and to the worlds ofwork and commerce. These narratives show, for instance, the extent to which invalidism constituted "a social role" (21). They also reveal ways in which the invalid was a complex and contradictory figure: suspected ofdeceit, yet associated with moral and spiritual authority, identified with both leisure and with labour, and simultaneously aligned with immobility and with tourism. Ifthis study has a shortcoming it is a minor one: Frawley's decision to provide little or no commentary on the illustrations included in her study keeps the images apart from her text, leaving them underutilized and inadequately connected to her argument. This oversight is minor but is surprising given Frawley's attention to the visual scrutiny practised by and connected with invalids such as Harriet Martineau. Martineau, who became deafin her late teens and who spent much ofher...