- Greetings from the Editor
Victorians. A Journal of Culture and Literature, Summer 2019 offers a significant collection of new work on discourse analysis from a compelling variety of perspectives. From New Women to New Men; from heteronormativity to homosexuality; from scientific professionalization to religious rhetoric; from the cult-of-invalidism to Comtean positivism; from food adulteration to moral contamination; and from melodrama to didacticism—each of these articles provides new ways of looking at issues raised by both mainstream and lesser-known texts specifically, while suggesting innovative directions for expanded discourse analyses generally.
“Courtroom Melodrama: Dramatizing Characters and Audiences in A Tale of Two Cities” by Brittany Reid investigates two courtroom scenes punctuating Dickens’s French Revolution novel. Through close-reading, Reid applies her study of theatrical imagery and the popularity of melodrama to the socio-cultural upheavals generated by the Revolution, revealing the narrative’s deeper significance as a political statement. Through melodramatic conventions, the courtroom scenes constitute a “politics of performance” that reveal “the intercessions and influences of the performance arts in both . . . form and content.” Most importantly, “performance imagery is mobilized to communicate a political message consistent with the novel’s propagation of a new social order, one that valorizes the emergent middle-class resulting from the Revolution.”
Beth Torgerson’s “Representing Illness: Competing Religious and Scientific Discourses in Harriet Martineau’s Life in the Sick-Room and Autobiography” analyzes intensifying discourse-tensions driven by the scientific community’s aim to professionalize its standing. During an era strongly identified with religious discourse, scientific empiricism increasingly sidelined unquestioning religious faith, particularly where disease and physical pain were concerned. Torgerson’s comparative analysis of three texts—Martineau’s Life in the Sick-Room, a medical review of the book, and the Autobiography—“reveals the competition between religious and scientific discourses” as both sought to establish “cultural authority” over invalid bodies, particularly those of females. One fascinating revelation here is that medical discourse sometimes employed the rhetoric of religious discourse in the very endeavor to sharply distinguish itself from it.
Interest in another branch of scientific inquiry—mental illness—surfaced in the era’s embrace of the psychological sciences. “Trollope’s Monomaniac Monsters: The Fixed Period and the Idée Fixe” by Colin Cavendish-Jones investigates monomania as a reflection of the period’s increasing interest in utopian thought. In terms of Trollope’s last novel, Cavendish-Jones considers differences between villainous characters—“unpleasant and un-gentlemanly”—and those, like the aptly-named President Neverbend, whose monomania, however well-intended, leads him “to behave monstrously and even murderously.” Distinct from Trollope’s “ideal statesman” Plantagenet Palliser, Neverbend’s inflexibility ultimately constitutes a form of mental illness that is particularly worrisome in those holding positions of power and influence. [End Page v]
Shifting from physical debility and mental illness to the immorality associated with scientific outliers, Lin Young’s “Deadly Nausea and Monstrous Ingestion: Moral-Medical Fantasies in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” analyzes a scientific anomaly as the physical manifestation of spiritual decay, as the personification of evil. Young examines the era’s concerns with polluted environment and adulterated food—some unhealthy practices aimed at aesthetics, others simply for profit—through the lens of expanding medical knowledge about, and public interest in, health and preventable disease. Stevenson’s narrative exploits this “ingestion-terror” through Hyde, who “evokes the effects of bad digestion and generates ‘moral’ nausea in others.” Jekyll’s attempt to isolate and eradicate evil actually strengthens its influence so that it assumes an autonomy independent of the host. The tale exploits the ideas that “spiritual health of the mind was inextricably linked with the physical health of the body” and that “corrupted bodies” reflect “contaminated minds.”
The next two articles concern late Victorian interests in sensation-fiction and New Woman-novels. “‘Ordinary Teacher-Woman:’ The Complicated Figure of the Mother / Teacher in Late Victorian Fiction” by Jennifer Fuller addresses women’s urge toward teaching as an honored profession that requires appropriate training and remuneration. This urge is driven by several factors: the general denigration of the governess—overworked, under-paid, rarely trained, and barely distinguishable from a maid-of...