Johns Hopkins University Press
  • "Take It When Tendered":M.E. Braddon's Thou Art the Man and the Weekly Telegraph's Media Model of Disability

Form and content in discourse are one, once we understand that verbal discourse is a social phenomenon—social throughout its entire range and in each and every of its factors.

Even before their first appearances in the pages of Victorian newspapers, the ailing, impaired, and suffering bodies depicted in popular nineteenth-century sensation fiction were surrounded by patent medicine advertisements. In the weeks leading up to its serialization in the Weekly Telegraph (1887–1951), for example, Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Thou Art the Man (1894) was advertised in the newspaper's 1894 "programme" of novels alongside patent medicines such as Blair's Gout and Rheumatic Pills, Towle's Pennyroyal and Steel Pills, and Wilkinson and Co.'s Famous Special Elixir. Given that, as Martha Stoddard Holmes and Mark Mossman note, sensation fiction's "poetics," "plotting and characterization," and "critical reception [use] the body as a nexus of expression, experience, and meaning making" (493), such spatial association of the bodies in sensation fiction with those in patent medicine advertisements seems strategically pointed. But to what end?

Scholars of Victorian periodicals have long accepted, and in many cases championed, Bakhtinian dialogic approaches to the myriad interacting texts newspapers contain. Deborah Wynne, for instance, in her foundational work on serial sensation fiction, notes that periodicals such as the Weekly Telegraph "exist as sites of simultaneity in that they present a cluster of apparently unrelated texts at the same point in time and space, all having the potential to be read in relation to each other" (20). James Mussell maintains that "the study of periodicals requires the … acknowledgement that the individual number is the manifest interaction of its producers—including contributors, editors, readers, and the interactions of the market" (Science 5). "Any discussion of the periodical press," he concludes, echoing Bakhtin's claims in the epigraph to this article, "must include form" (Science 5). Mussell contends, in fact, that "form was the way in which nineteenth-century serials [End Page 59] imagined what they did not know" ("Cohering" 94; my emphasis).1 As he goes on to explain, "the nineteenth-century periodical … was a genre predicated upon the new," and "in their telling of the new, periodicals accounted for new things, events, or phenomena by accommodating them within a world that had already been negotiated with their readers through repeated acts of telling, reading, and buying" (95).

But just what, to borrow Wynne's diction, was the Weekly Telegraph "inviting" readers to do with this juxtaposition of advertisements for sensation novels and patent medicines? What knowledge, to use Mussell's term, was "cohering" with this repeated layout? As Dallas Liddle notes, while Bakhtin's ideas about dialogism have been "widely accepted" in periodical studies, they have "yet to be put to useful work" (7). Despite an overall consensus about the importance of "dialogic interaction" (Bakhtin, Problems 183) in periodical studies, there has been a surprising scholarly silence regarding the sorts of interactions between sensation fiction and patent medicine advertisements mentioned above. In fact, with the exception of Kylee-Anne Hingston's examination of the interplay between patent medicine advertisements in Harper's Weekly and representations of bodies in Wilkie Collins's No Name (1862–63), which lays the groundwork for thinking about such juxtapositions as sites of competing disability narratives, there has been almost no work at all on the subject.2

In this article, I argue that the Weekly Telegraph's repeated juxtaposition of advertisements for sensation novels and patent medicines created a conceptual link between the two in readers' minds with which the newspaper invited readers to imagine and, within the frame of that imagining, to understand and evaluate the body. Using this juxtaposition, the Weekly Telegraph placed sensation fiction and patent medicine advertisements in conversation with each other and with already existing Victorian discourse about bodily "normalcy" and "ability"—setting itself up as a diagnostic tool (and, perhaps, a curative) for the bodies affected by that discourse.3 Ultimately, this process of imagining the "normal" and "abnormal" body via the interaction of advertisements and novels in the Weekly Telegraph meant that the newspaper and its constituent print forms (advertisements, serialized novels, etc.) became entangled with the body in the public imagination. This entanglement, in turn, generated what I call a media model of disability in which bodily "disability" is understood to stem not from biology or physical impairment but rather from the very media forms that present and popularize narratives about the body.4 Within this conceptual framework, print itself can be said to confer and to "cure" disability.

Tracing print's "curing" and conferring functions in the Weekly Telegraph (hereafter, WT), I consider the dialogic interactions between Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Thou Art the Man (hereafter, TATM) and a series of Beecham's Pills and Mother Seigel's Curative Syrup advertisements over the course of the twenty-three instalments in which the novel appeared between 6 January [End Page 60] and 9 June 1894. As I will demonstrate, WT's juxtaposition of advertisements for patent medicines with advertisements for serial sensation novels primed readers to read weekly instalments of TATM in conversation with the patent medicine advertisements scattered throughout the paper—especially the full-page Beecham's and Mother Seigel's advertisements that appeared at or near the end of each issue. These full-page advertisements drew out TATM's association of bodily ability with genre and, through genre, with print itself.5 The newspaper's form (the arrangement of elements on the page, the organization of various sections, etc.) worked with its contents, training readers to recognize various media as forces at work upon the body—forces that could be harnessed.6 In WT, TATM is dialogically intertwined with patent medicine advertisements that work in concert with its narrative to highlight the consequences of failure to harness media and ultimately model a successful use of media to refashion the body.

Beginning and ending in the "present" day (1886), TATM chronicles the tragic events surrounding Sibyl Higginson and Brandon Mountford's brief, star-crossed romance a decade earlier. Sibyl, the daughter of Joseph Higginson, an elderly captain of industry, quickly falls for Mountford, an epileptic big game hunter. Mountford decides to return to Africa to prevent himself from giving in to Sibyl's love and passing on his epilepsy. But Sibyl's illegitimate half-sister, Marie Arnold, is brutally murdered and Mountford is found in a state of confusion at her side. Circumstantial evidence points to Mountford as the killer. Hubert Urquhart, the feckless second son of a neighbouring lord, insinuates himself into Sibyl's confidence and convinces her that Mountford will not get a fair trial. Sibyl works with Urquhart to orchestrate Mountford's escape. The escape goes wrong, and Sibyl believes that Mountford is dead. Taking his opportunity, Urquhart tells Sibyl she needs to marry to escape social censure. Rather than marry Urquhart, however, Sibyl accepts the suit of his cold but respectable elder brother, Lord Dunluce. In the novel's present day, Lord and Lady Dunluce continue comfortably in their marriage of convenience. They have taken in Urquhart's daughter, Coralie, because her father is profligate and she is beginning to acquire his habits.

In its focus on the intergenerational effects of desire and jealousy, TATM presents the disabled body and print within a distinctly Darwinian—indeed, Galtonian—frame which is amplified by its periodical context. The novel approaches this relationship by understanding the "fitness" or "degeneracy" of the body not with an overt concern about medicines (patent or otherwise) but rather in and through genres which are conspicuously echoed by advertisements. Featuring a cast of male characters who are either elderly, hereditarily unfit to reproduce, or sexually degenerate, the novel finds its examples of sexual and biological fitness in its female characters. Coralie, in particular, is coded as "fittest" due to her ability not only to identify and read people as though they are texts, literally categorizing them by genre [End Page 61] and relating to them within appropriate genre conventions, but also to emulate those texts and genres herself as she searches for her own place and identity. Although her generic adaptability is clear even in the later, three-volume Simpkin & Co. edition, it is in WT, juxtaposed with genre-bending patent medicine advertisements, that the corporeal implications of Coralie's genre-switching become clear. To a certain extent, this could have been true of almost any periodical in which the novel was serialized. Yet WT was peculiarly situated to instigate dialogic interactions between sensation novels and patent medicine advertisements.

While many nineteenth-century periodicals advertised sensation novels alongside patent medicines,7 the pages of WT evince a heightened awareness of the body—due, in part, to the prior career of its owner-operator, William Leng. When Leng became part-owner of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in 1864,8 he was transitioning careers after more than a decade as a chemist and druggist ("Deaths"). Leng drew on this experience from the start, as evidenced by an article in which he introduces himself and his new co-owner to subscribers by describing their proprietorship as a blood transfusion: "new and vigorous blood has been brought in, but it will run in the old veins and will give life and energy to the old frame" ("New Year"). In addition to this corporeal sensibility, Leng brought an interest in serial fiction to his work. By the 1890s, he had transformed WT from a provincial Saturday newspaper supplement into a weekly penny paper in tabloid format that was printed in London. At twenty-eight pages long (including advertisement wrappers), WT typically ran multiple serials at once. Several of Braddon's novels debuted in its pages.9

Braddon's work became the keystone upon which Leng built his powerful late-century fiction syndicate.10 Upon her death, in 1915, the newspaper reported that "it is an open secret that the proprietors of 'The Weekly Telegraph' paid her £1,250 for the serial rights alone of each of her stories" ("Editorial Notes").11 In fact, WT openly advertised its payments to Braddon (see fig. 1). More notably, such running advertisements were often paired with patent medicine advertisements. In figure 1, for example, two patent medicine advertisements hover above the paper's imperative reminder to read Braddon's TATM. On the middle right, a paragraph addressing "all Weak, Nervous, and Debilitated Men" promises "a speedy cure by this most common sense and scientific treatment ever introduced" (see fig. 1). Immediately below it, readers with "Disfiguring Eruptions, Blotches, Pimples" are promised "A Spotless Complexion" (see fig. 1). Time and again in such juxtaposition, sensational narratives are linked with patent medicines and the "cures" they offer.

Such pairing of sensational narrative with patent medicine "cure" also occurs within advertisements in WT. In one full-page illustrated advertisement, for example, Beecham's pills are repeatedly equated with "good advice" (see fig. 2). "Take it when tendered," the advertisement instructs, [End Page 62]

Fig 1. "[Obliterated] have paid £1,250 for the story 'Thou Art the Man.'" Weekly Telegraph, 6 January 1894, p. 8. Newspaper image courtesy of the British Library Board.
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Fig 1.

"[Obliterated] have paid £1,250 for the story 'Thou Art the Man.'" Weekly Telegraph, 6 January 1894, p. 8. Newspaper image courtesy of the British Library Board.

referring first to the titular "good advice" and then directly to Beecham's Pills (see fig. 2; original emphasis). The advertisement's repeated use of the transitive verb "take," first with the object "good advice" and then with the object "Beecham's Pills," solidifies the equivalency between the two. Further emphasizing the parity of word and pill, the advertisement markets its product in an almost incoherent smattering of proverbial wisdom and colloquialism, noting that "good advice … very often costs nothing, which is something, and that sounds contradictory, but it isn't" (see fig. 2). The clichéd phrases are mixed and moulded, like the chemical compound they advertise, into a unified substance that acts as a beneficial preventative agent, warding off ill health and worse.

Yet, as it piles idiom on colloquialism on proverb, the advertisement draws on sensational rhetoric to send the implied customer on a hypothetical journey from health to illness, from illness to poverty, and from poverty to crime. The illustration introduces this narrative in two panels. In the first, a man and woman stand in the foreground. The man looks scruffy in baggy trousers and a too-small coat. Next to him, but unaware of his presence, stands a woman. The man reaches into the woman's pocket. In the second panel, the man stands alone beside a fountain. A purse lies empty on the fountain's ledge, beside a small box. The man holds a packet above his open mouth as if he has attempted to swallow the pills inside but has, instead, found the packet empty. Readers are directed: "For a 'taking' description of these illustrations, read above" (see fig. 2). Turning their eyes to the paragraph above, readers learn that "the proprietor of Beecham's Pills" offers them "good advice": "to buy (pay up, cash down, if possible), if not, beg, borrow, or—in any case, to take Beecham's Pills" (see fig. 2; original emphasis). Stopping just short of advising theft, it quips, "lastly, you are advised to 'Beware of Pickpockets,' they take Beecham's Pills; but forewarned is forearmed; so you take them first" (see fig. 2; original emphasis). Readers of this sensational advertisement learn that, for the full "cure," they must always take medicine with advice—or risk the consequences.

Appearing first in the 14 April 1894 issue of WT (along with chapters 19 and 20 of TATM) and recurring twice more during the novel's serial run,12 this Beecham's advertisement serves as a key to the novel's cipher—showing [End Page 63]

Fig 2. "Good Advice!" Weekly Telegraph, 14 April 1894, p. 8. Newspaper image courtesy of the British Library Board.
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Fig 2.

"Good Advice!" Weekly Telegraph, 14 April 1894, p. 8. Newspaper image courtesy of the British Library Board.

us how to understand the characters' bodies and how Coralie understands others' bodies within the world of the novel. By creating a sensational narrative and positioning itself alongside the generalized proverbs and colloquialisms it makes use of here as a medicine for any occasion, to be "taken" [End Page 64] liberally by the "healthy" and "ailing" alike, the Beecham's advertisement emphasizes the way in which print forms—and, indeed, genres—can be said to mediate bodies, or at least our understanding and experience of them. Read in conversation with this advertisement, Coralie's character arc shows us that by mediating genre expectations, by "taking what's tendered" from more than one source, one can mediate society's understanding of one's corporeal self. In this way, even as the advertisement shows us how to understand her character, Coralie becomes a model for how to "take it when tendered," how to navigate the competing narratives of disability presented by the newspaper in order to effect a "cure" (see fig. 2).

"The Degeneracy of Man": Masculinity and/as Disability in Thou Art the Man

Instalments of TATM are punctuated with space-filling advertisements for medical and cosmetic products, such as Epp's Cocoa (a digestive aid), Dr. King's Dandelion and Quinine Liver Pills, and Mrs. Bachelor's Hair Colour Restorer. Although seemingly irrelevant in their own right, these two- or three-line advertisements intersect strategically with moments of characterization in the text, particularly those relating to the physical representation of male characters. In the serial version of TATM, for example, Joseph Higginson's age is emphasized as the thing that most separates him from his aristocratic young wife, whereas in the later bound editions, his age marks him less than his working-class background. Thus, repeated advertisements directed at people with "Grey Hair" and promising "marvelous results" in returning said hair to its "former colour" serve to emphasize the age and potential infirmity of Lucy Higginson's (Sibyl's mother's) "elderly husband" in WT.13

Interestingly, both these small moments of dialogic interaction and the more ostentatious juxtaposition of the novel's contents and characters with full-page Beecham's advertisements tend to most directly affect conceptualizations of ideal and aberrant male bodies in the novel. Not only is Joseph Higginson's advanced age emphasized and his infirmity and death foreshadowed by moments such as the one discussed above but the bodies of the younger, presumably more virile men in the novel are similarly mediated. Take, for instance, "Monkey-Eulogy," a full-page advertisement for Beecham's Pills that echoes elements of Brandon Mountford's characterization in unsettling ways (see fig. 3). Depicting two chimpanzees hanging on a cage wall that separates them from a professor in hunting garb, the advertisement declares that Beecham's Pills "would have saved [the 'monkeys']" (see fig. 3). Printed in the 31 March 1894 issue of WT, "Monkey-Eulogy" coincides with instalment 13 (ch. 16) of TATM. In the previous instalment, Sibyl, still reeling from the (falsified) report of Brandon Mountford's tragic death, agrees to marry Lord Dunluce because a marriage of convenience is the only future she can envision without her lost love. In this context, the advertisement's central [End Page 65]

Fig 3. "Monkey-Eulogy." Weekly Telegraph, 31 Mar. 1894, p. 8. Newspaper image courtesy of the British Library Board.
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Fig 3.

"Monkey-Eulogy." Weekly Telegraph, 31 Mar. 1894, p. 8. Newspaper image courtesy of the British Library Board.

figure, dressed in a hunting outfit with a pistol at his hip, calls Mountford's chosen profession as a big game hunter rather forcibly to mind. The use of the word "eulogy" and the monkeys' enclosure similarly echo the tragic tale of false imprisonment and death that readers witnessed only weeks before. [End Page 66]

When the cultural reference the advertisement makes is considered, the advertisement's dialogic interaction with the novel's characterization of Brandon Mountford becomes much more complex. According to an article printed in the South Wales Daily News on 16 January 1894, Professor Garner, who kept his chimpanzees, Aaron and Elishaba, at Mr. Cross's menagerie in Liverpool, "recently had to deplore the loss of one of his chimpanzees (Elishaba)" and "has now to record the death of Aaron, her consort" ("Professor"). The "monkeys" are equated with humankind in both the news article and the advertisement. "Both of the animals were said to have shown much intelligence and affection," the anonymous journalist writes, adding, "indeed, Aaron … never recovered his former gaiety, but seemed weighted down with melancholia, from that time to his decease" ("Professor"). Like Sibyl and Mountford, the "monkeys" are presented as star-crossed lovers. The advertisement subsumes this context when it gleefully insists that the chimpanzees would have survived if provided with Beecham's Pills. Calling itself a eulogy and drawing on the imperial aesthetics of British big game hunting, the advertisement also subsumes and thereby disseminates an unstated logical warrant (social Darwinism) that contemporary readers would have recognized as part of a broader social discourse about degeneracy.14

Mountford's physical "degeneracy" is linked with print and defined by narrative throughout the novel. In his work on TATM, Allen Bauman points out that "epilepsy intersects multiple debates and discourses, such as bodily control and will power, crime and criminal responsibility, degeneration, hysteria, and atavism" (2). The novel's themes of degeneracy and atavism take on greater meaning when placed in the context of Africa, and Victorian readers would certainly have picked up on them. Laurence Talairach-Vielmas agrees, writing that "Braddon's fin-de-siècle Gothic uses exotic Africa to map out the civilized man's struggle against his own primitivism as developed by contemporary psychiatric discourse" (xv). As Bauman maintains, "Mountford becomes literally and figuratively imprisoned by both the disease itself and the discourses that would define him as transgressive and criminal" (1; my emphasis). Significantly, then, Mountford's epilepsy is correlated with improper reading in the novel: "He had bought this exhaustive treatise upon his malady, by a specialist, after his first attack, and had read and re-read the dismal details so coldly, so plainly described, not for the study of the sufferer, but for the calmer intelligence of the healer" (Braddon 93).15 Carrying this book with him and rereading it as needed in order to both resign and conform himself to this "malady," Mountford tellingly begins to suspect it of disabling him: "It was foolish to have opened that accursed book … a book not intended for the lay mind" (94). The narrator solidifies this connection between print and "malady," declaring, "argue with himself as he might, the opening of that book had unhinged him" (95).

While Mountford's physically presenting epilepsy is the most obvious form of disability in the novel, most of the male characters are presented [End Page 67] as disabled in a broader Darwinian sense. Lord Dunluce, described by his younger brother as "a young man with an old man's habits and ideas," is quickly situated alongside Joseph Higginson as symbolically elderly and impotent (Braddon instalment 5). What's more, the narrator tells us that "there was a something wanting in [Lord Dunluce's] nature where women are concerned," indicated by his failure to "catch" "three great heiresses" (60; instalment 5). In the 1890s, such talk of a "wanting" nature and failure to attract a suitable mate unavoidably called to mind the concepts of sexual selection proposed by Darwin: "Sexual Selection," he writes in On the Origin of Species (1859), "depends, not on a struggle for existence, but on a struggle between the males for possession of the females; the result is not death to the unsuccessful competitor, but few or no offspring" (149; my emphasis).

Unsurprisingly, Lord Dunluce remains childless, even after marrying Sibyl. His nature is "wanting" and strange. But the narrator observes that this is a quality of the Urquhart "race" rather than an individual trait. Although Urquhart, unlike his brother, has successfully fathered a child, we learn that he has "the same hardness of fibre" as his elder brother.16 His fatherhood is accounted for by the brief caveat that he possesses "a kind of surface sympathy which serve[s] his turn in society, and which ma[kes] him more popular than his elder brother" (Braddon 61). Despite his superficial popularity, there is something intangibly but nevertheless incontrovertibly wrong with Urquhart. Given this characterization, it seems only natural for the narrator to observe, toward the end of instalment 5, that "the sound of the sea came in with an undertone of monotonous melancholy, as if it were the great voice of Nature mourning the degeneracy of man" (72).

Undergirding this focalization of the moral and biological "degeneracy of man," illustrated and full-page advertisements for Beecham's products, which were printed at the back of WT during the run of the novel, call for men of good physical health and character while simultaneously employing a "boys will be boys" rhetoric which undermines that call (see fig. 4). In an advertisement titled "The Needs of Our Navy," for instance, newspaper readers are presented with a problem: "suitable men are not over plentiful" (see fig. 4). The advertisement goes on to note that "men must be healthy when they join the navy, and must be kept so … but boys will be boys, and brave boys are not always the most judicious. Our men of war need not founder if they 'Beecham'" (see fig. 4). Beecham's positions itself as a readily available and eminently affordable antidote to the "degeneracy of man" (Braddon 72), verbifying its brand while ensuring that men can continue to be degenerate without appearing to be so. With recourse to this patent medicine, the advertisement copy suggests, boys can continue to be boys but attain and maintain the outward appearance, or bodily constitution, of men. This advertisement works with the narrative of TATM to instantiate a media model of disability by shifting the onus of bodily care—and thus the cause of disability—from the "boys" themselves to the advertisement and the medicine it promotes. [End Page 68]

Fig 4. "The Needs of Our Navy." Weekly Telegraph, 2 June 1894, p. 8. Newspaper image courtesy of the British Library Board.
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Fig 4.

"The Needs of Our Navy." Weekly Telegraph, 2 June 1894, p. 8. Newspaper image courtesy of the British Library Board.

Similarly, in the 17 February 1894 issue of WT, another full-page advertisement, titled "Alarming State of Our Navy," decries the "great scarcity of men" (see fig. 5). "In considering the causes which have contributed to bring about the existing undesirable condition of naval affairs," the advertisement proclaims, "the fact must not be overlooked that numbers of otherwise [End Page 69]

Fig 5. "Alarming State of Our Navy." Weekly Telegraph, 17 Feb. 1894, p. 8. Newspaper image courtesy of the British Library Board.
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Fig 5.

"Alarming State of Our Navy." Weekly Telegraph, 17 Feb. 1894, p. 8. Newspaper image courtesy of the British Library Board.

strong, capable men, who present themselves as candidates for the Service, are rejected … on account of the decayed and defective state of their teeth" (see fig. 5). Drawing on naval discourse to evoke idealized masculinity, the advertisement suggests that no matter how "strong" and "capable" a man is, the fitness of his body (and masculinity) can be called into question, [End Page 70] the "proper standard of bodily condition" can change, and by a capricious twist of discursive perspective, he can find himself "the sufferer" of "the thousand and one evils of depressed vitality" (see fig. 5). Printed in plain black and white with no accompanying illustration, the advertisement uses large capital letters and underlined text to convey the direness of the situation it details. Although it ends on a positive note—"Beecham's Tooth Paste will prevent and arrest decay of teeth in a positively effective manner"—the advertisement underscores the fact that all that stands between men and lost masculinity is a thin piece of paper and the product it peddles (see fig. 5). Conversely, if its warning is heeded, the advertisement suggests, it and the product it hawks can prevent the loss of masculinity—redressing the "great scarcity of men" (see fig. 5).

The capriciousness of cultural definitions of ability and disability, drawn out by the juxtaposition of advertisements and the novel's characterization of men, is further emphasized by the fact that while TATM is generally regarded as a sensation novel, it strategically reverses many of the tropes of sensation fiction—making the male body the spectacle of scrutiny while the female body is championed as healthy and "normal."17 TATM certainly, to borrow Deborah Wynne's definition of sensation fiction, "centres on [a] myster[y] … based on crimes and scandals, which disrupt[s] the domestic lives of the property owning classes" (4). The novel also fits within the broader category of "sensation" that Beth Palmer discusses: "sensation" Palmer points out, "has [been] re-contextualize[d] … as a relative of the gothic, as a form of popular culture, as a precursor of 'new woman' fiction" (11). Even more significant than the categoric flexibility Palmer identifies is a generic self-reflexivity: "[S]ensation fiction was also alert to its formal function and place of publication (particularly in periodical form) … it was self-conscious and performative," she argues (11). Within its original serial context, Braddon's TATM demonstrates the "self-conscious and performative" mode of sensation that Palmer describes as it draws on and alludes to the styles and conventions of multiple genres (11). These generic discourses and traditions not only subtly shape readers' expectations of the novel but also become central, almost tangible forces within the plot, directly considered and interacted with by Coralie.

"Fortunate Women": Femininity and Generic Plasticity in Thou Art the Man

Braddon's playful but strategic interweaving of genre conventions in TATM makes the novel ripe for the dialogic interactions with patent medicine advertisements that the newspaper's juxtaposition of elements invited. The result is that—in its serial context—the novel locates bodily "fitness" in a sort of generic adaptability rather than biology. Coralie Urquhart stands out as the pinnacle of this generic form of fitness, using her understanding of genre to adroitly read her fellow characters and mediate her own [End Page 71] embodied position. In the novel's first instalments, Coralie emerges as a noteworthy character when her father asks her to keep a diary chronicling Sibyl's activities. When Coralie suggests there will be little to write about at the quiet country estate, her father opines, "You will have her ladyship—a most interesting study, a poem, and a history incarnate. I want you to observe her closely, and to write down everything that concerns her—her actions, sentiments, opinions, the people with whom she associates, and the esteem in which she holds them."18 In this moment, Coralie is instructed to view people not only as texts but as texts of specific genres. In fact, Urquhart, calling Sibyl "a poem" and "a history incarnate," suggests to Coralie that people can be mixed-genre texts and that by observing them in such a light, one can come to know a person with scholarly intimacy (Braddon 15).

Coralie learns this lesson well, as she demonstrates in the second instalment, which showcases her quick and canny ability to read people as texts within the parameters of genre when she analyzes Sibyl's character by investigating her bookshelves. In a lengthy passage, Coralie characterizes Sibyl as "a reading woman," noting that "her spacious morning room is lined with books, all of her own collection, and entirely distinct from the orthodox library of standard authors on the ground floor."19 She muses, "I have been told to study the lady's character, and some part of her character must reveal itself in the books she chooses." Observing the presence of genres ranging from poetry to metaphysics, Coralie writes, "My aunt seems to have taken all learning for her province, as somebody says of himself" (21).

Continuing her bibliographic exploration, Coralie spots something uncharacteristic in her aunt's library: "a collection of books upon African travel and African sport" (22), which, she notes, "I should consider very remote from Lady Dunluce's line of thought" (21–22). Realizing that this may be a clue to her aunt's psychology, Coralie digs deeper. "I ask myself," she writes, "how and why Lady Dunluce, a woman who is utterly indifferent to any sport in England and Scotland, should be keenly interested in sport in Africa," concluding, "the only answer to the riddle which offers itself to my mind is that the lady's interest in Africa is vicarious" (22). From this moment on, Coralie knows the essence of her aunt's history. By considering her aunt as a text, and thinking about the type of text she might be, Coralie is able to pinpoint anomalous behaviour—incongruous intertextuality, if you will—that allows her to better interpret Sibyl's motivations.

Perhaps more critically, Coralie goes on to apply this mode of analysis to herself. That is, she "takes [print and print logic] when tendered" but not necessarily as prescribed (see fig. 2). Keeping not just the diary her father requests, but a second, personal diary for her own questions and observations, Coralie becomes one of the novel's most complex and interesting characters. Yet she underestimates herself: "For want of interest in my own insignificant existence," Coralie writes at the end of the second instalment, [End Page 72] "I am naturally thrown upon speculations about my aunt." She nevertheless writes about herself in a long, reflective passage that her father will later read:

I am plain, let me not forget that—plain, but not repulsive. I have good eyes and teeth, and you have told me that my face lights up when I talk, that my complexion improves by candlelight, and that I have a quality which you call "chien," and which is not without its charm for the opposite sex, especially the duller members of that sex, who are apt to be caught by smartness and gumption in a woman. … Am I smart, have I gumption, I wonder? I recall the stories I have heard of plain women and their conquests; and it appears to me that the unbeautiful have been very often winners in the race.

Shaking off her musings, Coralie determines to "devote [her] leisure to the study of [her] aunt's character" despite her misgivings that such study is a betrayal. She writes that she is torn between a sense of filial duty and a jealous awareness that Sibyl "has been favoured by Fortune and Nature in all those respects where I have been hardly used" (28).

While Coralie does not draw upon any obvious literary texts for her self-analysis, here, her introspection contains striking parallels to a series of advertisements for Mother Seigel's Curative Syrup that ran with TATM and set about to define what sorts of (female) lives were worth living. As with Coralie's contemplation of her "insignificant existence," these advertisements represent women's "normalcy" and "ability" in terms not just of health but also of beauty—bearing out Rosemarie Garland-Thomson's contention that "femininity and disability are inextricably entangled in patriarchal culture" (27). Two advertisements in particular, titled "Three Fortunate Women" and "Girls of the Right Sort," speak to women's "health" and "normalcy" in ways that frame Coralie's unique form of "fitness" in TATM.

The first, "Three Fortunate Women," concludes with an exclamation that echoes and calls into question Coralie's sentiments about her aunt's good fortune. Printed with the fourth instalment (ch. 5) of TATM, on 27 January 1894,20 "Three Fortunate Women" positions Mother Seigel's as both preventative and cure by sharing the testimonials of "three Englishwomen—one so fortunate as to have lived more than a century without an illness; the others (still more fortunate) have known the sadness of suffering and the pleasure of recovery" (see fig. 6; original emphasis). Characterizing "the others" who "have known the sadness of suffering and the pleasure of recovery" as "still more fortunate" than the woman whose "century without illness" was enabled by regular doses of Mother Seigel's, the advertisement implies that bodily health, or "fortune," cannot be fully enjoyed without a period of suffering (see fig. 6).21 The closing exclamation—"how hard it is to tell who is best [End Page 73] off in this queer world"—sets us up to think about Coralie's perceptions of her aunt, and of how she compares to her aunt, in a fresh light (see fig. 6). While Coralie assumes herself to be "insignificant" and her aunt to be "best off" (Braddon 27), serial readers faced with this advertisement may begin to question the soundness of Coralie's assessment (see fig. 6). Perhaps it is Coralie, and not Sibyl, who is "best off," most "fortunate," "fittest."

Fig 6. "Three Fortunate Women." Weekly Telegraph, 27 Jan. 1894, p. 6. Newspaper image courtesy of the British Library Board.
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Fig 6.

"Three Fortunate Women." Weekly Telegraph, 27 Jan. 1894, p. 6. Newspaper image courtesy of the British Library Board.

[End Page 74]

The second Mother Seigel's advertisement, titled "Girls of the Right Sort," uses diction reminiscent of the "smartness and gumption" Coralie hopes to possess as it relates the story of two "noble," "good" and "courage[ous]" girls (see fig. 7). "There are some fools left who say we must look to men chiefly for courage and intelligence," it declares, adding, "Stuff and nonsense! … [women] will meet disaster or death with a quiet smile" (see fig. 7).

Fig 7. "Girls of the Right Sort." Weekly Telegraph, 17 Mar. 1894, p. 6. Newspaper image courtesy of the British Library Board.
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Fig 7.

"Girls of the Right Sort." Weekly Telegraph, 17 Mar. 1894, p. 6. Newspaper image courtesy of the British Library Board.

[End Page 75] Bound up with this "courage and intelligence," the advertisement suggests, is a feminine "genius for throwing in a suggestion exactly when wanted" (see fig. 7). Even here, bodily health, words (printed or spoken), and patent medicines intertwine. In fact, narrating the story of a girl who "made the right suggestion at a critical moment" by recommending Mother Seigel's to her father, the advertisement goes so far as to contend that "in courage and good sense she is like the other noble girl who saved her father's ship from wreck while he lay helpless in his cabin" (see fig. 7).

By equating physical health, mental fortitude, and "good advice," the advertisement subtly echoes Beecham's "Good Advice!" and intimates that ability is bound up in one's skill at navigating genres or narratives on the printed page. Taking us from shipwreck to invalid's bedside, "Girls of the Right Sort" frames Coralie's embodied role in the novel by showcasing heroines whose physical and moral traits enable them to thrive whether their lives take on the shape of adventure stories or domestic tales. Similarly to these "girls," Coralie's "smartness and gumption" enable her to navigate the new genre in which she finds herself early in the novel (Braddon 28). Although, as she admits to her father, "there is a thin thread of romance still running through the warp and weft of [my] character" (26–27), Coralie knows that—if she is a text—she is not a romance. She might be the scandalous tale of a fortune-hunter since, as she confesses, she would like "John Coverdale" to "fall in love" with her, not because she is "in love" but because "the conquest of man is woman's mission" (27). However, even this generic designation does not fully fit.

Despite these early forays into genre experimentation, is not until much later in the novel that Coralie begins intentionally to reshape her own embodied genre. In a chapter entitled "Coralie's Journal—Strictly Private," Coralie notes, "It is three days since I sent my father the latest chapter in my critical and exhaustive study of Lady Dunluce, and I really thought I had done my work so carefully and well as to deserve praise even from him. But not one word of acknowledgement have I yet received."22 Here, Coralie grows increasingly disillusioned with her father's patriarchal self-importance. She longs to be recognized for her intellectual achievement, bemoaning her father's lack of acknowledgement before applauding herself for safeguarding the information in case her "MS ha[s] gone astray." "I used ciphers instead of proper names," she writes, "enclosing a key for those ciphers in a separate letter" (212).

This habit of keeping double entries marks Coralie as a sort of generic kinswoman of the protagonists of the late-century detective novels and the spy novels that became immensely popular at the turn of the century. She thinks of herself as an intelligent adventuress and makes apt use of social and genre conventions as well as of texts themselves as "disguises" of sorts. Recounting a discussion with Reverend John Coverdale, for example, she notes, "Trying to please a man of his temperament is like punishment [End Page 76] labour. … No more rowdy talk in the billiard-room. … I shall devote tomorrow morning to fishing out the biographies of saints in the Encyclopaedia, and in the evening I'll read Newman's 'Apologia,' or Montalembert's 'Moules of the West'" (214).

When her father tells her "You have the pen of a ready writer, Cora. You ought to do something in literature, by and by," Coralie even attempts to imagine herself as a New Woman (217). Upon learning from the servants about the murder of Marie Arnold, she observes, "A lady never talks to servants except in a purely business-like manner. … Well, I am as much a lady as I can be, but I am first a woman; and I am devoured by a morbid curiosity" (264; my emphasis).23 Ultimately, however, Coralie cannot quite fix herself in the New Woman genre. In one final, fitful attempt to do so, she writes: "I see myself ten years hence a spinster novelist, in a snug little house. … My father might be dead by that time. … it is only natural that I should look forward to the years when I may stand alone in the world, free from a tie that galls me" (273).24 That "tie that galls" is precisely what compels her to try to identify her "correct" generic classification. It is not until she witnesses her father murder her uncle that she can truly sever that tie, break free from the narrative mould into which he has attempted to press her, and discover herself: "Why do I place these things on record?" she asks herself, declaring "I shall write no more in this journal. I close the book for ever this miserable night" (278).

Siding with her aunt and rejecting both her father's and her own bleak vision of her future, Coralie leaves off writing and becomes generically successful. "Coralie has no lack of admirers, in these latter days," the narrator informs us in the very last paragraphs of the novel (329):25

She is no longer Coralie Urquhart, for Mr. Stephen Hildrop … has made her mistress of himself and his estate.

Lady Coralie Hildrop gives hunting breakfasts, has a furnished house in Mayfair for the season, goes everywhere, is liked by a good many people, and feared by the rest; is mundane to the tips of her fingers, an affectionate wife, a good friend, a bitter enemy, and utterly without mercy for any pretty woman who misbehaves herself.


Symbolically erasing Coralie's hereditary background, the novel also erases her generic specificity in these final paragraphs. She, unlike her father and uncle, is a being of generic plasticity: "mundane to the tips of her fingers" (329) and so able to adapt to changing social roles and situations. In contrast to her male relatives and to Brandon Mountford, who is unable to escape his situation not necessarily because he is trapped at the vicarage but because he is trapped in one genre—bound and literally disabled by social discourse about epilepsy and by the conventions of sensation fiction that usually apply [End Page 77] to female bodies—Coralie is cast as an ideal organism, a body well fitted to its biological and social tasks.26

It is in this contrast between Coralie's and the male characters' fates that WT's instantiation of a media model of disability via the juxtaposition of sensational narratives and patent medicine advertisements becomes most clear. By recognizing that bodies can be read as texts situated in specific genres, and that bodies can therefore operate in multiple genres, Coralie adapts to the needs of the novel's narrative—its natural selection—and sheds her "degenerate" heredity to prove herself a "fit" heroine. Linked from the start with patent medicine advertisements in the pages of WT, Coralie's story in TATM also, and more importantly, becomes part of a larger discourse about bodily ability and the mediation thereof by the printed page. Put back into conversation, patent medicine advertisements and instalments of TATM printed in WT reveal a Victorian model of disability with roots in the provincial periodical press. They open up new ways to examine the Victorians' understanding and experience of disability as well as the importance of disability to sensation fiction.

Courtney A. Floyd

COURTNEY A. FLOYD is Director of Transformative Technologies at the University of Virginia's Contemplative Sciences Center. Her research focuses on representations of ability, disability, and embodied identity as they manifest in (and in response to) print media and other communications technologies. In addition to her research, she is the creator and producer of Victorian Scribblers, a public humanities and history podcast about the lives and work of nineteenth-century writers.


1. While Mussell does not refer directly to patent medicine advertisements in his discussion of form, his work emphasizes the structural importance of recurring elements in newspapers—a category that includes advertisements.

2. There has, however, been much valuable work on the representation of disability in sensation fiction. See Christine Ferguson's "Sensational Dependence: Prosthesis and Affect in Dickens and Braddon" and Mark Mossman's "Representations of the Abnormal Body in The Moonstone."

3. As Lennard J. Davis writes in Enforcing Normalcy, a "hegemony of normalcy" arose during the nineteenth century, stemming from the discourses of statistics, economics, and eugenics and maintaining that "the majority of the population must or should somehow be part of the norm" (44, 29).

4. Within critical disability studies, historical understandings of disability are theorized as models of thought, ranging from a medical model (in which disability is understood to be an impairment or biological failure to be fixed) to a social model (which understands disability as the failure of a society to design infrastructure for all bodies instead of as a biological failure). See Davis's "On Disability" for a fuller description of the various models in common scholarly usage today.

5. By "genre," I refer broadly to kinds or styles of texts, but draw upon Bakhtin's understanding of genres as languages that evolve, interact with, and encapsulate one another.

6. I use the term media to refer collectively to the newspaper and the other print forms it enveloped in the late nineteenth century, including novels, illustrations, advertisements, and eventually photographs.

7. Belgravia: A London Magazine (1876–99), for instance, often advertised serial sensation fiction alongside patent medicines.

8. Prior to 1884, the supplement in which serial novels appeared was bundled with the Saturday issue of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, though it had its own pagination and appeared under a masthead that read: Weekly Supplement to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph. In 1884, the supplement's masthead was changed to the Sheffield Weekly Telegraph, and in 1887, the name changed once more to the Weekly Telegraph ("Sheffield Daily Telegraph").

9. These include The Fatal Three (1888), The Venetians (1892), Thou Art the Man (1894), and During Her Majesty's Pleasure (1901).

10. See Law, especially chap. 4, "Rivals of Tillotsons."

11. Although a number of Braddon's novels ran in the supplement before 1887, starting with Taken at the Flood (1873), the rights for them were purchased from the Tillotson's syndicate. See Law pp. 66–67 for more details.

12. On 28 Apr. and 6 May 1894, respectively.

13. See instalment 6, 10 Feb. 1894, pp. 2–4.

14. Both degeneracy and social Darwinism have roots in the nineteenth-century rise of eugenics, which Sally Ledger argues "unabashedly combined the language of natural selection with highly partial and contentious social judgements on the relative worth of different sections of the population" (73).

15. See instalment 7, 17 Feb. 1894, pp. 2–4. Where possible, I have chosen to cite page numbers for the Valancourt edition (so that readers can more easily follow along) and provide relevant instalment numbers in the footnotes.

16. Instalment 5, 3 Feb. 1894, pp. 2–4.

17. Emily Allen observes that "in the pages of the sensation novel, gender runs amuck. … Sensation fiction is full of women who somehow refuse the angelic role" (401).

18. Instalment 1, 6 Jan. 1894, pp. 2–4.

19. Instalment 2, 13 Jan. 1894, pp. 2–4.

20. Instalment 4 corresponds with ch. 5 in the Valancourt edition, but ch. 6 in the serial.

21. Although it may seem unusual for a medical advertisement to promote suffering in the cause of fully-enjoyed health, Thomas Richards has noted that late-century patent medicine advertisements intentionally tried to reshape customers' understanding of their own bodies via a process of narrative autosuggestion (187).

22. Instalment 15, 14 Apr. 1894, pp. 2–4.

23. Instalment 18, 5 May 1894, pp. 16–18.

24. Instalment 19, 12 May 1894, pp. 16–18.

25. Instalment 23, 9 Jun. 1894, pp. 16–17.

26. Notably, this snapshot of Coralie's happy marriage does not mention children. Because she is deemed "an affectionate wife," however, I contend that there are still grounds to read this passage as an indication of her "fitness."

Works Cited

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