Galway Study Day: Part 2

VPFA and NUI Study Day –  Mystery and Medicine: The Dark Side of Science in Victorian Fiction

Afternoon Panels

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Keynote 2—Mr Alexander Black, Department of Anatomy, NUI Galway
‘The Early Years of Anatomy in Galway’
After lunch, conference attendees gathered at the appointed time to be escorted to NUI Galway’s Anatomy Lecture Theatre. It is at first glance a modestly-proportioned room, but the dimensions are specific ones: vertical as well as horizontal planes are employed, with benches arranged on a precipitous incline to allow the entire assembly a view of the dissecting table. The latter was notable by its absence, however, at the start of the fascinating lecture by the engaging Mr Black—but more on this anon. We began by hearing a little of NUI Galway’s origins as one of three colleges established as a result of the Queen’s Colleges (Ireland) Act 1845: ‘In order to supply the want, which has long been felt in Ireland, of an improved academical education, equally accessible to all classes of the community without religious distinction.’
The colleges were intentionally nondenominational, and professors were forbidden under statute to make any statement disrespectful to the religious or political convictions of their students. Due to the absence of religious instruction inside the colleges, they were labelled ‘godless’—particularly by the Roman Catholic hierarchy of the time who were concerned that despite the statutes, Catholic students would be placed in a potentially morally hazardous environment.
The ‘discouraging’ circumstances under which the college opened on the 30th October 1849 were summed up in the college president’s report to the Queen:

The Town of Galway possesses a population of not more than 20,000 inhabitants, the greater portion of whom are in a state of the most abject poverty: accordingly, the number of families likely to avail themselves of academic instruction for their children, is, at the present time, very limited. The disastrous occurrences of the last few years have pressed with peculiar severity upon the Province of Connaught, and the entire West of Ireland.

One manifestation of the poor relief necessitated by famine was the Union Workhouse, which, as we were shown on a contemporary map, was situated directly over the road from the college. In this bald fact of geographical proximity was a dark intimation of how the fraught relationship between ‘town and gown’ would develop over ensuing decades.

For a department of anatomy to function, it needs a reliable source of bodies. The concept of donating one’s mortal remains to medical science not being a wildly popular one in the nineteenth century, in Ireland as elsewhere pains were taken to ensure that bodies didn’t go missing at the hands of the ‘sack ’em up men’. New funerary structures and contraptions were contrived to this end: mortsafes, deadhouses, and watchtowers. However, for the anatomists of Galway—a college established after the Anatomy Act of 1832 created a legal source of anatomical specimens—lawful arrangements for their procurement could be made.

One such option was using the bodies of the recently hanged, which had been one of the only legal sources prior to 1832. Charles Croker King, Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at the college, would also glean what information he could from the process of the hanging itself, in order to develop understanding of what is now known as forensic pathology. This knowledge had particular application in cases in which a person is discovered hanged: had they hanged themselves, or had they been killed and then hanged in order to avoid detection? Croker King’s vivid reports remind us that rigid stylistic demarcations between literary and scientific writing were not yet in place in the 1850s:

The culprit maintained considerable fortitude, but the frequent drawn, deep inspirations, and faltering steps, bespoke the sufferings of the inward man. It was a beautiful autumnal evening; the sun, as if in mockery of the solemn scene, danced upon the adjoining river, and illuminated a dense crowd of human beings, principally women and children, congregated to witness the dying struggles of a fellow creature. Their conduct, upon the whole, was not indecorous, but they evidently regarded the scene as a serious amusement.

Also legal, and far more reliable—not to mention geographically convenient—than depending on haphazard opportunities to secure the material remains of public executions was the procuration of the corpses of those paupers who remained unclaimed by family or friend from the neighbouring workhouse.

At an appropriately dramatic juncture in the lecture, Mr Black revealed to the audience a trapdoor at his feet. When opened, the ‘missing’ dissecting table was revealed to be laying in a subterranean chamber, a chain and pulley system enabling it to be raised into the theatre when replete with an anatomical specimen. The reason for this arrangement was, Mr Black pointed out, indicated by a long-since bricked up archway in the chamber, at the head of the table. It was through this archway that bodies would be introduced onto the table, having completed their brief journey over the wall of the workhouse and across the road to the anatomy theatre.

This arrangement with the workhouse, while a necessary one for the viability of the School of Anatomy, did not ingratiate them with the local community. Mistakes and blunders were sometimes made, and the results could be horrifying. Mr Black described the cases which had precipitated the end of the practice, one of which was reported in the 6 April 1878 edition of the Connaught Telegraph:

A DREADFUL OUTRAGE ON HUMANITY was committed last week in the Galway Workhouse. A poor woman having died within its inhospitable walls, was removed for dissection to the Queen’s College Medical School. Through some culpable negligence the greater portion of the body was mislaid, and only some entrails of another pauper returned for burial. When the funeral was about to take place, the relatives of the deceased, finding the coffin very light, forced open the lid, and discovered the hideous truth. A daughter of the poor woman, flung the mangled entrails into her apron, and rushing back to the Workhouse, threw them down at the gate. The Bishop of Galway was so horrified at the occurrence that he forbade the Chaplain to say Mass in the Workhouse until ample reparation had been made.

Bishop McEvilly was unequivocal in his opinion that current arrangements effectively resulted in the ‘rich preying on the bodies of the poor’. The School of Anatomy negotiated the resulting existential threat by putting rigorous checks and balances in place, and Mr Black displayed a material example of one of these: the Record of Dissections book, begun that same year.

Mr Black’s lecture was a great demonstration of how science and, particularly in this instance, medical practice do not exist as ‘pure’ disciplines functioning in a vacuum. He carefully delineated the very particular and tangled strands of history, culture, religion, and geography, and the specific influences of individual personality, from which an institution such as the NUI Galway Department of Anatomy emerges; myriad factors that this type of institution particularly—concerned as it is with such emotive and fundamental human sensitivities and taboos—is compelled to negotiate if it is to survive and thrive. JM

Parallel Session 2

Medicine and Ethics
This was an excellent panel on eugenic aspects of nineteenth century medicine. Jennifer Diann Jones brought to life the horrors of vivisection on the human subject in her paper on the anti-vivisectionist, eugenicist novelist Arabella Kenealy. Her paper on Kenealy’s ‘A Human Vivisection’ from The Ludgate (1896) followed the purpose and potential results of the moving boundaries of science. This was illuminated through Victorian belief in the ‘proper’ role of pain and chloroform and the acceptance that masculinity may be constructed to include willingness to watch suffering in the operating room. The reliability of ‘informed consent’ versus the lure of money to the lower classes was also argued through the protagonist’s demise.

The second speaker was Debbie Harrison, who spoke about the moral barometer of forensic medicine through the role of the doctor-detective in Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (1868) and in George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1872). Her paper made the case that forensic success and morality are not interchangeable in these novels. Harrison argues that the success of the detectives Ezra Jennings and Tertuis Lydgate is the result their liminal identities: Jennings, through his ethnicity and drug addiction and Lydgate, through his debt and corruption. So, the relationship between new science, change, and addiction was carefully traced in this thought- provoking paper.

Finally, Christopher Pittard, spoke about the writer C.L. Pirkis’ book The Experience of Loveday Brook (1894). Locating the interaction between detective novels and antivivisection narratives, this paper not only considered the etymological double standard of ‘murder’ and ‘killing’ in relation to human and animal, it also worked through layers of social implication in the use of vivisection. The paper framed the argument that vivisection can only serve a medical purpose, if the results mean something to creatures of the same order. So the desire to extrapolate results from animals that are of the lower order, reduces the status of man. Subtly, the paper traced the order of living dissection in Pirkis’ novel from the higher animals, to the working class, to the female detective herself: so Pirkis’ book serves as a warning that the desire to carry out living experiments has the potential to lead to eugenics. SZ
Fin-de-Siècle: Three Papers on the Late Nineteenth-Century Gothic
James Machin’s paper was entitled: ‘“A slight lesion in the grey matter, that is all”: fin-de-siècle medical practice in Arthur Machen’s weird fiction’. Machen’s career as a writer was impacted by his encounters with medicine; he started to write fiction after failing to pass the exam for the Royal College of Surgeons. Machin discussed cases of surgical neurosurgery that influenced Machen, for example The Great God Pan presents a horrifying inversion of positive neurosurgical procedure. Doctor Raymond experiments with brain surgery, destroying rather than healing the mind of the subject Mary, transforming her from healthy to pathological. Machen’s weird stories are peppered with malign doctors, often conducting horrible experiments on women. These malign doctor figures may have been influenced by Machen’s experiences of the medical practitioners attending his ill mother. However, Machin argues that Machen’s interest in medicine is negligible, and his use of surgical procedure merely superficial. Machen co-opts medical science for other purposes: in order to present his metaphysical convictions, and to push his anti-materialist agenda, his rejection of the idea that the secrets of the mind are best explained in matter.
Caitlin R. Duffy’s paper was entitled: ‘Cartography of the Imperial Mind: The Dangerous Forms and Reforms of Dracula’. She examined the mapping of mind, land, and body in late nineteenth-century culture, and looked at Dracula as literary case study. In Dracula, imperial and medical anxieties converge in narratives of invasion and regression, which Duffy explored by looking at cartography in the novel. Nineteenth-century brain scientists mapped the brain and its functions. David Ferrier vivisected animal brains and recorded his findings in pictures, cranial cartography. T. H. Huxley also mapped brains in this way, using human corpses in markedly unemotional depictions of human dissection. These medical practices were hugely useful in guiding the surgical profession, yet created anxieties over loss of subjectivity, and the idea that doctors could besiege and control the mind, anxieties which are dramatized in Dracula. Colonial maps functioned in a similar way, lessening conscience about invasion. Dracula is often read as a narrative of colonial counter-invasion. Duffy pinpointed examples of maps and atlases in the novel, which appear as guides to fortune. She analysed further how cartographic lines are breached by the Count, who constructs his own geography. Harker’s boundaries are ever shifting; there is a distinct lack of cartography near Castle Dracula, and the Count draws the lines around Harker’s existence.

Mathilde Giret’s paper was entitled: ‘Signs of the Plague in Dracula: A Literary and Medical Investigation’. Giret provided a convincing reading of signs of vampirism in Dracula as medical plague symptoms. The spread of vampirism in the novel echoes plague transmission; infected animals, rats, and flea bites. Lucy and Mina’s symptoms are redolent of early plague symptoms: headaches, fever, chills, weakness, sepsis, intolerance to light, sleeplessness, and delirium. The three physical symptoms of the plague are visible in Lucy too. Vampires traditionally sucked near the heart and didn’t pierce the skin, instead leaving a kind of love bite. Stoker’s choice of the neck suggests bubonic plague. Lucy also has a rash which mirrors that of septicaemic plague, as the disease enters the bloodstream. She also has respiratory failure, echoing pneumonic symptoms. Vampires are linked to the plague in myth; the German folk legend of Nachzehrere is particularly active when there are signs of plague. Giret closed by commenting that while we don’t know if Stoker was drawing on the plague, he was aware of how disease spawns myth; in his The Invisible Giant, cholera is allegorised into a monster. LBJ

Session 3

Mental Health
The closing panel of the Medicine and Mystery study day focused on mental health. Emily Turner, from the University of Sussex, discussed ‘New Moon Journalism and Patient Powered Publications,’ focusing on the periodicals written by patients at mental health hospitals, the most famous of these being Hydra at Craiglockhart, though Turner’s focus was on New Moon, the publication of the Crichton Royal Institution. Turner identified two factors leading to the creation of such publications: the wider ‘literary atmosphere’ of Victorian journalism as offering a prototype for such magazines; and secondly, a shift in therapeutic strategies towards ergotherapy and moral therapy. These latter therapies, embodying the ideals of the eighteenth century physician William Battie, emphasised the importance of recreation and creative expression as embodied in the magazines, which were produced by patients in collaboration with staff as part of occupational health. Turner’s focus on one article in particular – the anonymous 1845 piece ‘Another Confession – Are the Insane Always in Error?’ – demonstrated the ways in which patient publications reflected the stylistics of Victorian journalism while occupying a liminal space between patient and staff, science and literature. Turner considered the ways in which the article deployed Victorian ideals of literary sympathy for therapeutic purposes: as the author of ‘Another Confession’ wrote: “I have sometimes thought that if I could, by words or writing, impress others with the inexpressible sufferings of those who feel the captivity as I do, it would not be living in vain to attract sympathy and alleviation even in the cases of a few.”

Sympathy was an implicit concept in the second paper of the panel. Marjolein Platjee of the University of Amsterdam examined Little Father Time’s suicide in Jude the Obscure, and the reductive explanation of the event offered by the attending doctor. Platjee compared Hardy’s novel to contemporary texts such as George Savage’s schema of types of suicide included in the 1892 Dictionary of Psychological Medicine, and S. A. K. Strahan’s project in tracing family trees to identify hereditary causes of suicide in Suicide and Insanity (1893). Platjee argued that such projects were attempts to reduce suicide to a single determining cause, whereas Hardy’s portrayal draws attention to a multiplicity of factors and Little Father Time’s factually correct, though tragic, reasoning. Platjee problematised both the doctor’s diagnosis (that it was in the child’s ‘nature’ to commit suicide) and the lack of practical value of such a diagnosis, failing to offer strategies for those suffering from suicidal tendencies, or living with the effects of these in others. Platjee provided a close reading of two key aspects of Hardy’s scene, arguing that Father Time’s suicide note implies that his death was not intended to end his own life, but to facilitate the lives of those around him; and noting the multiplicity of Jude’s responses to the body, problematising the reductive singularities of medical schema such as Savage’s.

The panel ended with Charlotte Whittingham’s ‘The Angel in the Asylum,’ a survey of Victorian alignments of femininity with mental disorder. Whittingham began on a methodological note, as a medical student at Imperial coming from a different disciplinary background to most of the day’s speakers, explicitly considering the questions of using literary and visual texts to understand and historicise illness. Whittingham’s strategy of punctuating her narrative with a dazzling array of literary quotations and visual sources (including quotations from Plath, de Beauvoir, Wilde, and Emily Dickinson, and paintings including works by Millais, Hogarth’s depiction of Bedlam in A Rake’s Progress (1735), and Andre Brouillet’s image of Charcot at the Salpetriere (1887)) offered a kaleidoscopic approach whereby cultural artefacts were not prescriptively interpreted, but allowed to echo each other in more suggestive ways. Whittingham did, however, linger further on a suggestive opening quotation: Virginia Woolf’s claim (in a letter to Ethel Smyth) that ‘My brain hums with scraps of poetry.’ A prevalent misquotation of the line adds ‘and madness’, making explicit what is implicit in Woolf’s original; the sense of literature as always already an experience of mental disturbance. Whittingham used this line as the basis of an explanation of the value of reading literature through the perspective of medical history.

While all three papers were clearly connected through the panel’s topic of mental health and madness, a subtler thread running through the panel was that of futurity, either in terms of the temporal schemes of treatment or broader questions of historical influence. Turner noted that patient powered publications such as New Moon acted as a precursor to modern day citizen science initiatives; Platjee’s reading of fin de siècle medical understandings of suicide critiqued Hardy’s fictional doctor for a failure to adequately address the needs of those left with the aftermath of suicide. Whittingham ended her survey of cultural representations of madness with a historicist speculation: would historians a hundred years in the future look back on twentieth-century personality-disorder treatment as absurd, as some Victorian treatments appear to us? This projection of the study of medicine and mystery into the twenty-second century proved a fitting note on which to end the symposium. CP


Louise Benson James is a second-year PhD student at the University of Bristol. Her research project looks at medical hysteria and the Gothic in fiction by women in 1850-1930.

James Machin completed a PhD in English and Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London in 2016. His book Weird Fiction in Britain, 1880 to 1939 will be published in the Palgrave Gothic series in 2018. He is a co-editor of Faunus, the journal of the Arthur Machen society. Machin’s participation in the VPFA study day was supported by the Birkbeck Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund. He would also like to thank Mr Alexander Black for his generous help with the preparation of this blog post.

Christopher Pittard is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Portsmouth. He has published widely on Victorian popular culture, including in Studies in the Novel, Victorian Periodicals Review, Women: A Cultural Review, and Clues: A Journal of Detection. His books include Purity and Contamination in Late Victorian Detective Fiction (2011) and the co-edited Cambridge Companion to Sherlock Holmes (2018).

Sara Zadrozny is studying for a PhD in nineteenth-century literature at the University of Portsmouth. She is researching the intersection of female old age and medical narratives from 1845 to 1900. She also works as a tutor in English Literature at Oxford University’s School of Continuing Education and on the Oxford Experience teaching Victorian Literature and literary theory.

Galway Study Day: Part 1

VPFA and NUI Study Day –  Mystery and Medicine: The Dark Side of Science in Victorian Fiction

Morning Panels

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Sarah Wise, ‘Mr Gilbert’s Weird Psychological Novel’: Shirley Hall Asylum and Victorian states of mind (RD)

Sarah Wise’s opening keynote focused on Shirley Hall Asylum: Or the Memoirs of a Monomaniac, written by William Gilbert and published in 1863 (and available to twenty-first century readers at; ODNB entry at ). Thus far in Wise’s research, Gilbert’s text appears sui generis, and audience members were encouraged to let Wise know of any works that may be similar. Despite its standalone status, the novel’s relevance to the theme of the study day, ‘Medicine and Mystery’, was not in doubt. Conceived after Gilbert’s stay at an asylum, the novel consists of ten short stories concerning ten asylum inmates, among them a man who cannot have anyone stand to his left, and a former governess who, when she sees a soldier, becomes convinced that she is Xerxes. The text considers the nature of subjectivity, and what constitutes sanity or insanity. Gilbert’s resistance to the highly popular newspaper novel led him to produce a work based in fact, avoiding the melodramatic plot twists of sensation fiction. Factual does not equate to dull, however, as Wise described how Gilbert’s sober prose style is used to unsettling effect; as the reader follows a mundane conversation between two characters, it gradually becomes clear that at least one of the characters is obsessive, possibly delusional.

Gilbert’s text becomes a vehicle to propose that realism, rather than sensation fiction, is the correct genre for Victorian descriptions of emotional and intellectual crises, since these crises were so commonplace during the period. Indeed, Wise showed that one of the characters in Shirley Hall Asylum may be an autobiographical sketch by the author. The question at the heart of the work is, when does a person’s eccentricity turn into a condition that requires him/her to be incarcerated? Those with a penchant for Victorian writing will be familiar with the trope of overwork; it looms large here as a risk to the sanity and wellbeing of the middle-class person. Wise situated Gilbert’s book within the context of nineteenth-century medical-historical discussions on monomania, and the scandal of 1858 when four high-profile cases generated much newspaper discussion of potential wrongful incarceration in asylums.

The Q&A session demonstrated how consideration of a now lesser-read text can offer fresh perspectives to the study of the nineteenth century. Gilbert’s visits and conversations with staff and inmates suggest that the Victorian asylum was a more porous institution than may sometimes be imagined, while the gender breakdown of the characters in his novel points to the real risk of false imprisonment for Victorian men as well as Victorian women. In terms of fictional representations, the example of the incarcerated female in Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White was counterpointed with that of the male victim in Charles Reade’s Hard Cash. It was mooted that Miss Havisham’s freedom to do harm to Pip and Estella allows for a reading of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations as a pro-confinement novel. This morning’s keynote whetted the audience’s appetite for more, and the rest of the study day provided it.

Parallel Session 1
Gender and Class (ET)

This panel was chaired by Eavan O’Dochartaigh from NUI Galway.
The first speaker was Sara Zadrozny, of the University of Portsmouth. Her paper, ‘Medicine and Victorian Notions of Gender’, explored the differences between the medical attention given to male and female patients in the nineteenth century, focusing particularly on the themes of vision and scrutiny. Women were generally considered to age at a faster rate than men during the Victorian period, coming into midlife sooner and considered elderly at an earlier time. Zadrozny used an extract from The Lancet to demonstrate how women were shown to have ‘aged differently’, and explored how the trope of the hourglass was used to reflect both the female shape and echo how much time the woman in question had left on earth. Miss Havisham of Charles Dickens’ 1860 novel Great Expectations, along with Miss Skewton from the author’s Dombey and Son (1847), can be read, Zadrozny argued, in conjunction with these ‘medical’ diagnoses of female aging.

Following Zadrozny was Abby Boucher from Aston University in Birmingham, who gave a talk entitled ‘Fashionable Illness: Consumerism, Medicine, and Class in the Silver Fork Novels’. Boucher introduced her paper by giving a helpful explanation of the ‘silver fork novel’ phenomenon. These ‘fashionable novels’ were extremely popular from the 1820s to 1840s, before falling from favour in the 1850s. William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1848) is, Boucher suggests, generally seen as the parody which sounded the genre’s death knell.

Silver fork novels provided a literary intrigue, as often characters would be veiled caricatures of individuals from Society, and readers were invited to discern their real-life counterparts.
Several themes were explored in these texts, such as marriage reform, class, heredity, medicine and health. Sensibility, Boucher said, had fallen out of fashion by this point, but the concept’s utter pervasiveness was clear in the silver fork novels’ use of ‘delicate health’ as a marker of aristocracy.

This connection between sensibility and illness was a theme which was echoed throughout the social hierarchy, functioning as a symbol of aspiration. Hypochondria had become a bourgeois trait, and to speak of a nervous condition in the Romantic period is to allude to the class system.  Boucher spoke of how this association of health and sensibility functioned in literature of the period, referencing Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Godolphin (1833), which alludes to the ‘fashionable’ trend of falling ill, and Romance and Reality, Letitia Elizabeth Landon’s 1831 novel, in which young ladies are encouraged to pray for illness to secure a romantic advantage.

In some of these novels, medicine plays the role of the villain, undoing carefully laid plans and altering a character’s plot when someone unexpectedly recovers. These novels, by discussing health and medicine in terms of material culture, positioned an aristocratic body as the ultimate luxury commodity. Reliant on middle class readership, the aristocratic authors of these novels trained those further down the social strata to emulate the physical experiences of the upper class.

The panel’s final speaker was Ruth Doherty of Trinity College Dublin, whose PhD research was supported by the Irish Research Council. Her paper, ‘“But you and I may say the truth”: Reproduction and Infection in Late Nineteenth-Century Fiction’, started with a discussion of Arthur Morrison’s A Child of the Jago (1896), in which a recently delivered baby is said to be perhaps ‘still better unborn’.

The Jago, a fictionalised version of a London slum, is an area characterised by overpopulation and a supposed moral degeneracy. Taking Morrison’s text as a starting point, Doherty forged a connection between the ‘infectious’ nature of sexual reproduction, and the disease-like transmission of moral corruption, spread from criminals to the respectable poor due to the close proximity of these groups.

Moving beyond the realms of fiction, Doherty went on to discuss how Morrison, along with several contemporaries, considered a solution to this infectious form of doubled reproduction – a penal colony. Sexually segregated settlements would not only deter reproduction, but would also prevent the ‘infectious’ passing on of bad traits to children. This notion, of course, had roots in the workhouse system, which operated through the separation and segregation of family units. This notion, Doherty said, infected further texts of the era, reappearing in such works as HG Wells’ The Time Machine (1895), which featured a state divided between the post-human Eloi and Morlock species.

Spaces and Bodies (MP)
Louise Benson James opened the panel with her presentation on gothic medical spaces in the work of Lucas Malet (Mary St Leger Harrison): ‘Sick Rooms, Death-Beds, and Operating Theatres: Gothic Medical Spaces in the Fiction of Lucas Malet (1852-1931)’. Her paper showed how Malet was able to give voice to Victorian medical anxiety and trauma, by combining a scientific matter-of-fact writing style with the gothic. The combination of these styles allowed her to undermine the concept of the room and the body as stable containers of, amongst others, death and disease. James described how the character Jenny in The Wages of Sin (1891) is artistically dissected an art-room where each of her lover’s students paint a different part of her body. When Jenny is dying of tuberculosis, the death-room is uncannily linked to the art-room by the blood that she coughs up when she tries to laugh. At the same time, the macabre spectacle that Jenny presents, as the blood spills out of her mouth, destabilizes the image of the beautiful tubercular woman. In Richard Calmady (1901) Malet once more confronts her readers with a red-room when Richard Calmady’s leg is amputated in his own red drawing room. As the novel is set in 1842, the operation occurs without anaesthetics. James convincingly shows that even though the amputation itself is not described, its effects can be contained neither by Calmady’s body nor the drawing room. The stress of the operation and her husband’s cries of pain affect Calmady’s pregnant wife, who eventually gives birth to a child with shortened legs. In both novels, then, neither the body nor the spaces confining them succeed in keeping death and disease from spilling over and affecting others.
In the second paper, ‘“Full of fire and animation”: Sthenic Corpulence in Dickens’s Fiction’, Neil MacFarlane proposed that John Brown’s ‘Brunonian’ theory can be used to explain the way Charles Dickens represented jolly, fat, male characters. By looking at descriptions of Mr Pickwick in The Pickwick Papers, Fezziwig in A Christmas Carrol, and Mr Micawber in David Copperfield, MacFarlane showed how they are all described in words connected to warmth and light. Fezziwig, for example, has a ‘comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice’ and Mr Pickwick is ‘like another sun’. Imagery that is again reproduced in the images accompanying Dickens’ texts. By turning to Brown’s theory on obesity, McFarlane explained how these descriptions reflected Brown’s concept of the sthenic; a state of too much excitement, or over stimulation of the body. Brown believed that the obese body was in a constant mode of generating excitement (i.e. fat), without being able to use/burn it. The result was a continuous generation of warmth and health. According to McFarlane it is this warmth and health that permeate the literary and pictorial representations of Dickens’ characters.

Contributor Bios

Ruth Doherty (RD):
Ruth Doherty holds an MPhil in Popular Literature and a PhD from Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. Her doctoral research on representations of overpopulation in nineteenth-century fiction was funded by the Irish Research Council. Ruth’s research combines authors who were popular in the Victorian period but are now largely forgotten and authors who remain popular to this day – she has published essays on G. W. M. Reynolds, Arthur Morrison, and H. G. Wells.

Emily Turner (ET):
Emily Turner is a second-year postgraduate researcher and AHRC/CHASE funded doctoral candidate at the University of Sussex, where she is studying the medical humanities with a specific focus on locating archives of patient publications produced in mental health institutions between 1850 and 1950. Her research interests include the medical humanities, nineteenth-century fiction, and the history of art and science.

Marjolein Platjee (MP):
Marjolein Platjee is a PhD student with the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. Having developed a considerable interest in death and the afterlife in the Victorian era, Marjolein’s research centres on representations of the dying and dead body in British popular fiction.

Mary Eliza Root Prize

VPFA is proud to announce the launch of the ‘Mary Eliza Root Prize’. In memory of his Great-Great-Grandmother, who died in a Hoxton workhouse, Professor John Spiers has generously gifted VPFA with £100 each year, for the next five years. With this money, VPFA is going to sponsor one of our members to conduct research at Gladstone’s Library. VPFA will match-fund up to £100 for travel expenses to the library.

 Gladstone’s Library is situated in the beautiful and serene village of Hawarden, North Wales, and is Britain’s only residential Prime Ministerial Library. Gladstone, born in 1809, and Prime Minister on four separate occasions, began building his library in 1889. He designed it specifically as a place of study and solitude for scholars, so they could access his substantial book collection, and this remains its primary purpose to this day.

 To further Gladstone’s end, and to celebrate the fantastic work on Victorian popular fiction being generated at the VPFA, the ‘Mary Eliza Root Prize’ offers the winning scholar two nights’ accommodation (complete with breakfast and dinner) for up to three days’ research at Gladstone’s Library. In order to fulfil Gladstone’s Library’s accommodation requirements, the prize must be claimed between December 2017 – February 2018.

 The winner will be expected to write a c.1000 word blog post on their research experience for the VPFA blog within a month of the research being completed. Any published works based on research undertaken for the ‘Mary Eliza Root Prize’ must acknowledge the prize.

 To apply, please send a 2 page C.V. and 300 word cover letter detailing how researching at Gladstone’s Library will aid your own research and contribute to furthering the field of Victorian popular fiction and culture. Please send the application to citing the ‘Mary Eliza Root Prize’ in the subject box.

 The deadline for applications is: 31st October 2017.

Victorian Collaborations Study Day, blog 1 of 2

In the following post, Annachiara Cozzi, Matthew Crofts, Alina Ghimpu-Hague, and Charlotte Wadoux give their thoughts on the three panels and the roundtable discussion from the recent VPFA Study Day, Victorian Popular Collaborations (22 May 2017). Nickianne Moody and Joanne Knowles will follow this with a more summative post that will incorporate a discussion of Dr Patricia Pulham’s keynote, ‘Collaborating with the Dead: The Advantages and Disadvantages of Borrowed Prestige’.

 Panel 1: Collaborative Relationships

Alexis Ancona and Jacob Hale

‘Unnatural Selection: Anthropomorphic and Supernatural Animals in Alice Illustrations’

Alice in Wonderland was always intended to be read with pictures. Starting from this premise, Alexis Ancona and Jacob Hale offered us an illuminating paper exploring the role of the illustrations of animals in Alice by three artists: John Tenniel, Ralph Steadman and Salvador Dalí. Illustrators of Alice worked with the text to represent the power struggle between the protagonist and the animals inhabiting Wonderland, thus acting as true co-authors of Lewis Carroll. Ancona and Hale convincingly argued that animals in Alice in Wonderland, in order to be perceived as authority figures, are bestowed anthropomorphic and/or supernatural qualities.

They started with an analysis of Tenniel’s drawings, which depicted Wonderland as a reflection of Victorian society and its strict classism. The White Rabbit, for instance, with his gold watch chain, elegant waistcoat, and stiff collar, represents aristocracy. The Cheshire cat’s authority, instead, is conveyed though the imposition of supernatural characteristics: his mastery of transformation enables him to upset even the authority of the Queen of Hearts.

Steadman’s illustrations have a more modern setting: the White Rabbit now appears as an early- to mid-twentieth-century businessman wearing a bowler hat; the Caterpillar blends anthropomorphic and supernatural qualities, such as huge eyeglasses to symbolise his enhanced inner sight.

In Dalí’s surreal Wonderland, animals who possess authority in the text are depicted with extra-natural traits. Both the White Rabbit and the Caterpillar are portrayed as magnificent explosions of colours, further emphasised by their juxtaposition to more realistic representations of their species. Ancona and Hale thus shed some light on the different ways in which Carroll’s animals were made to convey authority by distancing them from their natural animal identity.


Kimberley Braxton

‘ “to exiled and harassed Anne wishing she was here” – Recovering the Literary Relationship of Anne and Emily Brontë ’

Elizabeth Gaskell’s influential biography The Life of Charlotte Brontë has established a perception of the Brontës as a compact, united family, which has proved difficult to uproot. By looking closely at Anne’s and Emily’s diary entries, Kimberley Braxton challenged this notion: she argued that not enough attention has been dedicated to the personal and literary partnership between Anne and Emily Brontë, a relationship clearly revealed in both their joint and separate diary papers.

Braxton’s compelling paper proved how the connection between the two younger Brontë sisters was particularly strong, and how they were, both in writing and in life, a united pair. For instance, Braxton showed us several diary passages which offered an insight into life at the parsonage, where Anne and Emily’s activities are often contrasted with those of other members of the family: Anne and Emily often sat together writing or slipped out into the privacy of the garden to peruse their papers, while Charlotte emerges from those pages as marginalised. Even when separated (during the time in which Anne was away working as a governess), the two sisters’ joint literary habits and their loyalty to each other persisted. Significantly, a creative burst in Emily’s writing coincided with the return of her sisters to Haworth – but especially Anne’s: reunited with her, Emily’s literary production flourished. Apparently then, Anne’s presence was fundamental for Emily’s writing – and happiness.

In conclusion, Braxton demonstrated, thanks to an accurate study of original documents really worth praising, that the notion of the Brontë siblings as perfectly united is much more complicated and fictional than what tradition has passed down to us. (AC)


Panel 2: Collaborative Authorships

This panel explored collaboration in and outside texts. While Annachiara Cozzi tracked and investigated paratextual evidence of co-authorship, Chris Louttit focused on memoirs from the Bohemian group, revealing a network of authors.


Cozzi’s paper started with a study of an impressive collaborative work, The Fate of Fenella.  The book co-authored by 24 novelists highlights many of the different interests of Cozzi’s paper, including the use of well-known names to advertise the book, as well as the use of their signatures. Cozzi showed us fascinating signatures, highlighting them as important visual elements of paratext. In the early days of collaborative novels, which were often anonymous, the signature would hint at the identity of the authors.

pic2For instance, the above monogram for Somerville and Ross uses a Celtic motif because of the Anglo-Irish origin of the authors. The signature embodies the collaboration as two styles being united into a larger pattern. Cozzi also looked at prefaces highlighting how early collaborative works attempted to assert the unity of their texts while expressing anxieties as to readers’ perception. However, Cozzi argued, this changed in the 1890s, as with the preface of The Fate of Fenella. Thus, Cozzi offered us a convincing analysis of the emergence and boom of collaborative novels during the second half of the nineteenth-century, looking at different strategies to first conceal then assert collaboration which underscores the reception of these works.


Louttit’s paper dealt with Bohemian autobiographical writings, a subject rarely touched upon. Louttit distinguishes between two main forms of life-writing at the time: the spiritual autobiography, an act of interpretation rather than of presentation; and the professional autobiography, a model which testified to a fascination with the figure of the canonical novelist. Louttit offers a third model emerging from the Bohemian group. He suggests that though those texts are rambling, inaccurate, and indulgent they reveal much about authorship. It turns out that the anecdotical, digressive, and gossiping aspect of these autobiographies disclose another engagement with the act of recollection, highlighting a collective existence. Louttit distinguishes three main aspects concerning their form and content. First, Bohemian modesty, especially in the titles (reminiscences rather than autobiography), but also a humility compared to other great men of the time. There is also a disregard for the “writer as machine”; the examples Louttit showed us rarely mention working habits in a serious mode, though Louttit compared his working habits to Gustave Strauss’s i.e. working on wine, coffee, and according to deadlines. Lastly, fraternity and socialising were one of the main focal points for these authors. Louttit took the case of George Hodder, whose sketchy mode of writing emphasises his taking part in a collective experience. Thus, Louttit’s paper showed that this social and fragmented model of life-writing, which broadens and displaces ideas of authorship, responds to the isolated and structured conventional models of life-writing.

pic4During the Q&A session, Cozzi revealed the origin of her documents to primarily be the British Library and catalogues from publishers. She clarified the organisation of the collaborative work that resulted in The Fate of Fenella: the editor organised the writing, contacted the author who wrote the first chapter, then sent the chapter to another author who continued the narrative, and so on. Louttit developed on the creative aspect of these texts, often in conflict with commercial impact as well as on the use of name dropping. The latter, Louttit argued, testifies to a reflection on celebrity and to a sense of being a source for later historians. Louttit revealed that the readership for these texts is not very well-known. (CW)

Panel 3: Collaborative Afterlives

The final panel of the day, titled Collaborative Afterlives, saw the discussion return to one of the core themes explored in the keynote address: the metaphor of the literary author as a problematic medium who reverses the traditional power relations between the messenger and the source, between the present and the past. Both papers included in this session suggest that such a reversal is neither absolute nor definitive, and propose reading the resulting texts not as instances of literary ventriloquism but rather as the outcome of hybrid, often unstable authorship.

This instability of authorship is particularly marked in the work of W.H. Mallock, the central figure in Erin Louttit’s paper on ‘Rewriting the Romans: Adaptive Literary Collaboration, W.H. Mallock’s Lucretius on Life and Death and Edward Fitzgerald’s The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám‘. By superimposing three authorial voices–his own, Lucretius’s and Fitzgerald’s–Mallock produces a text in which overlapping attempts to bridge the linguistic and cultural gaps inherent in the translation of geographically and historically distant sources unwittingly articulate a parallel message that partly undermines the work’s aims. Although Mallock’s socially conservative version of Lucretius does suggest, as intended, that a reliance on fact rather than faith in pursuit of truth is misguided and can only lead to spiritual death, it also brings to the fore the modernity of Lucretius’s interest in science and his relevance to 19th-century debates. Similarly, although presenting Lucretius’s ideas in a recent popular form borrowed from Fitzgerald succeeds in rendering them more accessible, the price of such exposure is distortion due to Mallock’s invasive, highly selective interaction with the Lucretian source text. The result, Louttit argues, is a complex, multi-vocal volume that is neither at odds with its sources nor an accurate version of them.

In contrast, Dan Simmons’s relationship with the ‘recovered’ voice of Wilkie Collins, explored in Charlotte Wadoux’s ‘Ventriloquising the Dickens-Collins collaboration in Dan Simmons’ Drood‘, appears at first glance to be a relatively simple case of neo-Victorian appropriation and transformation – the literary equivalent of a stage illusion which relies on misdirection in order to entertain. Wadoux peers under the surface, however, to reveal a complex network of interactions shaped both by Victorian anxieties regarding the provenance, legitimacy and value of literary products and by similar 21st-century concerns regarding authenticity and authorship. The picture that emerges is one of blurred boundaries between author and reader, between life and fiction, and between commerce and art. Reading and writing collapse into a single gesture effecting a transformation of the self, production and consumption become inseparable aspects of an overarching quest for individual agency. The end result, Wadoux argues, is not empowerment but dissolution and reconfiguration – a process that leads to the creation of a composite author that writes about composite characters: the ‘real’ Simmons merges with the ‘real’ Collins to bring into being a fictional author who, in turn, transforms the ‘real’ Dickens into a character that embodies his own literary creation.(AGH)

Roundtable: Teaching Victorian Popular Collaborations

The end of any conference is usually quiet after a long day, as people surreptitiously begin checking their watches and thinking about catching their trains. The ‘Teaching Victorian Popular Collaborations’ roundtable, however, was a lively and effective close to the day. Dr Kirsty Bunting kicked off proceedings by introducing the room to ‘Consequences’ – a Victorian game in which the players each anonymously contribute a line to a story within specific categories. Three pink pieces of paper were distributed around the room and then filled in. Apart from being immensely amusing, and a piece of cultural history, it was also an excellent example of collaborative writing and for many brought to mind the novel The Fate of Fenella – a novel with each chapter penned by a different writer. Kirsty was forthcoming in sharing her positive experiences in teaching the novel to students, the detective skills it produced in readers, and her incorporation of creative writing. An interesting suggestion was made: should we hide how The Fate of Fenella was written? Would it change what students made of it? One issue in reading it as a collaboration is that students stop reading it as a text in its own right, and only read it as a collaboration – looking for the fractures and scouring each chapter looking for traits of that section’s respective author.

The session was supported by a ‘reading pack’ that was part of each conference pack. Janine encouraged the room to look at her contribution – a series of illustrations from M E Braddon’s short story ‘Good Lady Ducayne’. Whilst the story itself is chiefly medical, the illustrations are full Gothic, complete with a silhouette unanimously identified as belonging to a vampire bat. The illustrations from the publication in The Strand Magazine, as Janine pointed out, completely changed the context and the reader’s response to the piece, which dovetailed nicely with papers earlier in the day about illustrators and authors. The reality of the literature marketplace meant that many texts are collaborative in some way – publishing, editing, and, of course, illustration.

With only three academics in the room teaching collaboration directly the discussion not only heavily featured ideas on how to incorporate collaborative texts into other programs, but also into less obvious types of collaboration – particularly new issues created by new and social media. One such form was the proliferation of famous Victorians and writers who have taken to twitter – despite being long dead. Such accounts are problematic for students, they can be an effective way of making students consider what a nineteenth-century perspective might be, but it is difficult to know if they are reliable. Other modern examples of collaboration used by the room include sitcoms and online fan fiction communities. Collaboration, just like our game of Consequences, is frequently thought of and treated as a game. It only remains to share our three stories (of varying success) that delegates worked together to compose:

Vlad met Sylvie in Paris. ‘Your dog only has three legs’ says Vlad. ‘Would you like to collaborate on that?’ Sylvie responds. The consequence was that he wept bitterly. What a wonderful conclusion to an exhausting day.

Marcus met Queen Victoria in Scotland. He said to her ‘Would you like to go for a swim?’ She said to him, ‘I saw an otter by the river last night!’. The consequence was that Marcus stabbed her. Oh well –another day, another headline.

Charles Dickens and Ethel M. Dell met down the disco. ‘Would you like to take a ride in my carriage to East London? I’m sure we could have a good time!’ said Charles. ‘That is not very gentlemanly of you!’ replied Ethel. Consequently, they ran away to Brazil. Whatever. (MC)



Annachiara Cozzi is a first year PhD candidate at the University of Pavia, Italy. Her research focuses on literary collaboration, and in particular on late Victorian and early-twentieth century co-authored novels published in the UK. She is currently investigating the collaborative trend that took over the literary marketplace during the 1890s. She is studying the works of, among others, Walter Besant and James Rice, E.D. Gerard, Somerville and Ross, F.C. Philips and his collaborators, Rhoda Broughton and Elizabeth Bisland, Justin McCarthy, and Rosa Campbell Praed. Her research interests also include Gothic fiction and the Indian colonial experience.

Matthew Crofts is a PhD candidate at the University of Hull, as well as being a board member for the University’s Centre of Nineteenth-Century Studies. Matthew’s thesis examines the reoccurring elements of tyranny and torture across a range of Gothic novels and historical backgrounds. These include classic Gothic subjects such as the Spanish Inquisition, through to Victorian imperialism, to modern Gothic forms and science fiction hybrids.

 Alina Ghimpu-Hague is PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she also teaches Critical Thinking and Academic Writing Skills. Her research interests include reading, readers and reception, the evolution of genre, and multi-modal narratives from the 19th century to the present. She is currently investigating the impact of tourism and exploration on Victorian entertainment and reading habits, as well as the social and professional networks that facilitated the creation and propagation of the Victorian Nonsense of Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, and W.S. Gilbert.

Charlotte Wadoux is a PhD candidate at both the University Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 and the University of Kent at Canterbury as part of a jointly supervised PhD programme (cotutelle). She has been awarded a scholarship from the University of Kent as well as a mobility scholarship from the Conseil Général de l’Oise. Her research bears on contemporary neo-Victorian fiction, especially on the rewriting of Charles Dickens’ novels and the impact of intertextuality on reading praxis. Her dissertation argues that the modern rewritings of Dickens use the detective genre as a mode of writing but also create a particular mode of reading as the reader is asked to “play the detective.” She is the co-editor of this year’s issue of the peer-reviewed postgraduate journal Litterae Mentis and a reviewer for the Paris 3 University postgraduate journal Traits d’Union. She is one of the organisers of the conference “Movement in/and/of the City” to take place on June16th at the University of Kent, Canterbury.

J. M. Barrie Society London

The J. M. Barrie Literary Society is officially launched! And for those who missed the birthday party at Kirriemuir on 9th May, a second event will be welcoming all at Senate House, London, 19th June at 5pm. See the website or Facebook page for more details, or contact 

Barrie is too often lost in the shadow of his most famous creation, Peter Pan. Our purpose as a Society is to promote and collectively enjoy the full range of Barrie’s huge and varied literary output, from the earliest journalism to the latest plays. We privilege texts over biography, and encourage active textual discussion and appreciation. Membership is FREE for the first year for those who join before 19th June 2017: sign up at Whether you harbour a secret love for Thrums, have been puzzled by Mary Rose, or are simply interested in learning more about Barrie’s work, we look forward to welcoming you.



Victorian Popular Fiction Association Blog

VPFA is adding a blog to the website so we can continue discussions we begin at conferences and study days. We’d like this blog to be useful for members’ research and interesting to members of the public who are interested in Victorian popular fiction.

In the spirit of making this a communal project, we invite you to send blog posts for consideration (see below for submission guidelines). The categories of topics we’d like to include are as follows:

  • Announcements of relevant upcoming events and recently published work. These posts will likely be quite short, but still of interest to VPFA members. (announcement)
  • Summaries of or reflections on conferences or other relevant events you attend; these will be especially beneficial for those who were not able to attend the same event you did. For VPFA events we will solicit volunteers to write on the sessions they attend with a view to having a record of each session on the blog. (record of event)
  • Reviews of primary texts you come across that are not widely known. If you write on texts that are hard to find, please tell us where you found it. (primary text)
  • Reflections on issues raised in secondary material you encounter in your research. For example, my next post will be in response to Jonathan Cranfield’s Twentieth-Century Victorian: Arthur Conan Doyle and the Strand Magazine, 1891-1931. I’ve recently begun work on another “Victorian” writer whose career continues into the twentieth century, L. T. Meade, and want to consider the implications of Cranfield’s work beyond Doyle. (secondary text)

If you think of any broad categories you’d like to include, please take a moment to send them to

Submission Guidelines

  • Attach your proposed post in an email addressed to
  • In the subject line, flag the appropriate section using the parenthetical short titles above. For example, if I were sending my post on Cranfield discussed above, the subject line would be ‘VPFA blog: secondary text’
  • Make sure to include a 100-word biographical note and contact details at the end of your blog.