Victorian Bodies and Disability’s Centrality to Victorian Scholarship

* The following is a guest post by Kylee-Anne Hingston, who recently defended her dissertation on disability and narrative form at the University of Victoria *

In a 2006 article in Victorian Literature and Culture, Julia Miele Rodas lamented that, at that time, “disability [was] still generally regarded as an isolated concern, of literary or cultural significance only insofar as it may serve as a convention or an icon of affect” (378). The article, “Mainstreaming Disability Studies?,” reviewed two seminal works in Victorian disability studies (Martha Stoddard Holmes’s Fictions of Affliction and David Wright’s Mental Disability in Victorian England) and provided an overview of disability studies in the humanities for the journal’s readers. More importantly, however, it encouraged scholars to acknowledge disability’s centrality to Victorian studies and the humanities.

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On Forgotten Paragraphs

We’ve stalled on The Floating Academy of late, for a variety of reasons. But there’s still life in this floating collective, so I’m hoping to resurrect the not-yet-dead a little bit. I thus offer to readers the following paragraph, which I hope will be the first of an ongoing series of excised, deleted, or forgotten paragraphs from scholars in Victorian studies. Without giving away too much context, I should say that this was an almost-deleted paragraph from the introduction of a book project on Victorian narratives of stuttering and speech disfluency that I’ve been working slowly on for a few years now. We all have such forgotten words that don’t fit or no longer seem to make sense. If you’re a Victorian scholar and you have similar paragraphs somewhere in a lonely file on your desktop, please feel free to send them my way and I’ll see if we can revitalize them a little bit in the near future. Here’s my forgotten paragraph:

While sifting through vast amounts of material, and often lacking a narrative to unite the archaeological messiness of stuttering research from the 18th to the 21st centuries, I came to one fundamental conclusion (of course, one that not-coincidentally corresponds with my literary training in nineteenth-century British literature): the Victorians were intensely preoccupied with the psycho-physiological phenomenology of the stutterer in ways that current popular discourse is not. More particularly, Victorian medical, elocutionary, and literary knowledge of stuttered speech introduced an “incitement to discourse” (to use Foucault’s words) that would make the stutterer speak, and be spoken about, and would ensure that the stutterer confess his most melancholic, traumatic, and private sufferings, even while maintaining a sensitivity to the stutterer’s melancholic, inward-turning, and lonely disposition. My research project thus introduces a cultural criticism of stuttering that resists the self-help bias of much current thinking about stuttering as a speech disorder.

Nineteenth-Century Disability: A Digital Reader

Screenshot of 19thC Disability:  A Digital Reader
Screenshot of 19thC Disability: A Digital Reader

Following up on Connie’s post on “Editorial Traces:  The Yellow Nineties Online“, I’d like to take this post to introduce another digital project, Nineteenth-Century Disability:  A Digital Reader.  The project is an interdisciplinary, open-access scholarly resource on physical and cognitive disability in the long nineteenth-century.  Leading and emerging scholars in nineteenth-century disability studies (including the Floating Academy’s own Jennifer Esmail and Daniel Martin), have chosen texts and objects important to the field, and annotated them with introductions, footnotes, and suggestions for further reading.

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April Conference Report: Methodologies in Victorian Studies

I attended two terrific conferences in April that have spurred me to think about methodological questions in the field of Victorian Studies. The first one, “The Victorianists Workshop: New Approaches to Archives, Methods and Pedagogy,” which took place at Western University, was the first conference I have attended where attendees were asked to think specifically about methods instead of presenting a conventional research paper. The CFP encouraged us to consider the “developments of new critical methodologies, archival resources and pedagogical practices [that have] radically transformed Victorian Studies” and then, at the conference itself, we presented short, 2-3 page papers on our own work as it intersected with these new developments. Continue reading “April Conference Report: Methodologies in Victorian Studies”

VSAWC

VSAWCThe Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada conference, Victorian Humanity and its Others, has come to a close. It was held at Coast Hotel in Vancouver, a location that has, ladies and gents, left me feeling a little nostalgic. I attended my first VSAWC meeting at the Coast in 2009 — my first visit to Vancouver. Fellow Floating Academician Daniel Martin gave me a tour of Stanley Park over a lunch hour and was kind enough to introduce me to the Victorian Studies who’s who of Western Canada.

Since then Daniel has moved east and I’ve moved west. It was great to have mini FA reunion at the conference: Daniel, Jennifer Esmail, and I Continue reading “VSAWC”

Downton Abbey

I feel a little shamefaced posting about Masterpiece theatre, but I can’t be the only Victorianist out there watching Downton Abbey.  I think overall the first season was a little stronger than the second, but have enjoyed every episode nonetheless.

I wondered as I was watching the first season if the disability themes were meant to be educational.  There was a fair bit of didactic content meant to teach history in the first couple of episodes.  For example, the valet would iron the newspaper and explain to the new maid that it was so the master wouldn’t soil his hands with ink.  One major plot in the first season was the scheming to get rid of the valet, Bates, on the spurious grounds that his limp made him unable to fulfill his duties.  The cook also accidentally swapped salt for sugar, endangering her job by revealing that she was going blind.  (Her sight seems to have recovered this season.)  I wondered as I watched these incidents if they were supposed to point out to a twenty-first century audience the precariousness of employment as a servant in the early twentieth century, when you could be turned out after years of service with nothing, depending on your master’s goodwill. Continue reading “Downton Abbey”

CFP: Special Issue of Women’s Writing on Dinah Mulock Craik

NPG 2544,Dinah Maria Craik (nÈe Mulock),by Amelia Robertson Hill (nÈe Paton)

Sketch of Dinah Mulock, 1845, by Amelia Robertson Hill, National Portrait Gallery

Guest Editor: Karen Bourrier, Consulting Editor: Sally Mitchell

Throughout her lifetime and since her death, Dinah Mulock Craik (1826-1887) has been considered either ahead of her time or a touchstone for all things Victorian. Henry James, for example, assessed her work as “kindly, somewhat dull, pious, and very sentimental.” At the other end of the spectrum, Elaine Showalter found that she excelled at a “peculiar combination of didacticism and subversive feminism.”1 Continue reading “CFP: Special Issue of Women’s Writing on Dinah Mulock Craik”