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.

Continue reading “Victorian Bodies and Disability’s Centrality to Victorian Scholarship”

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.

Continue reading “Nineteenth-Century Disability: A Digital Reader”

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”


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”

It’s not a Kindle

I recently made the plunge and bought an e-reader last month, and following Jen’s and Daniel’s excellent posts about the digitization of books, I wanted to add in my two cents.

I bought the e-reader before taking a trip to visit family and it was fabulous to travel with–the screen is almost easier to read than a book, and I was able to carry many “books” with me.  As a scholar who works on a lot of non-canonical novels, I’m grateful for easy to access to authors (like Dinah Mulock Craik and Charlotte Yonge) whose complete works aren’t so easy to find.  My copies of Craik’s or Yonge’s or even Charles Kingsley’s novels are often more than 100 years old, and needless to say they don’t travel well!

I wonder, in fact, how much of the reason for the canon is material rather than about “quality”–only so many Victorian novels are in print at any given time, which limits what we can read and think about to some extent.  I think that projects like Google books and devices like e-readers are doing a great thing in making these books more democratically available.  It can only add to the richness and diversity of scholarship in Victorian studies to have this kind of access.  I wonder if we will see a renaissance in work on lesser-known novels as this access increases.  Or, if more ordinary people will start reading more Victorian novels simply because they’re out of copyright and free on the web.

I’ve read a lot of (usually print) articles worried about the demise of the book with the advent of the Kindle.  I don’t see these two things as being in conflict.  I have both a shelf full of beautiful old books which certainly have an aesthetic and cultural value that the e-reader doesn’t, and an e-reader to take with me when I don’t want to damage those beautiful books.

Another benefit to the e-reader is environmental–I have yet to start reading articles on my e-reader, but it is pdf-compatible and I could see this really cutting down on my printing.  There’s even a disability studies angle to this book technology–the option of increasing the font-size makes the technology accessible to the visually impaired, and it’s easier for people with difficulty with fine motor skills to press a button than to turn a page.

The biggest detraction I’ve found so far in reading Google books on my e-reader is that the software they use to decode the fonts and convert it to e-pub format produces some junk characters.  This would be a problem if I was doing a close-reading of one of the novels or quoting from it, and for that I would switch to my print editions.  But for an initial reading of a novel it’s really not a problem.

Do any of you have a Kindle or other reading device?  What has your experience been?

p.s. I personally decided on a Sony because it has a touch screen that allows me to scribble notes on the text and is compatible with Google books, and it didn’t hurt that it was on sale for $150 and red!–but really this could all apply to any device on the market.

Special issue of the Victorian Review on “Victorian Disability”

I recently had the privilege of guest co-editing, with Christopher Keep, a special issue of the Victorian Review on the topic of “Victorian Disability.” I am so pleased with how the issue turned out and how it brought together some of the superb scholars working in this burgeoning field. The issue is now available and I encourage you to check it out! (As you’ll see from the table of contents below, there are some wonderful contributions from some of my fellow Floating Academy members!) Continue reading “Special issue of the Victorian Review on “Victorian Disability””

The Relevance of Edison’s Ear?

Readers, you may be interested in a new website that features Canadian documentary films, many of which were screened at one time or another at the wonderful Hotdocs Documentary film festival that takes place annually in Toronto. There are a few films that may be particularly relevant to scholars of the nineteenth century including Seeking Salvation, which is a history of Black churches in Canada including their role in the underground railroad, and The Jolifou Inn, a short film from 1955 about the art of Cornelius Krieghoff.

I was particularly excited to see Francisca Duran’s interesting film Mr. Edison’s Ear, which I missed at the 2008 Hotdocs festival, included in the on-line documentary library. Continue reading “The Relevance of Edison’s Ear?”

Spinal Curvature, Fascinating!

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Dr. Williams’s library in London, where the Eliot-Lewes library is held. I was doing work on Philip Wakem’s hunch back and hoping to find some very exciting underlining in the books she read on the physiology of the spine. I’m not sure what I was imagining—maybe something like “spinal curvature!! fascinating.” Oh dear. Most likely I was looking for Eliot to guide me through the mass of medical literature I was quickly becoming mired in with no clear way of figuring out what was important. I was just too early on in my work to tell at that point. Continue reading “Spinal Curvature, Fascinating!”

Victorian Freak Show Posters

"Krao" poster from the British Library's Online Gallery of Victorian Freak Show Posters

Kristan Tetens at The Victorian Peeper points us to an interesting online collection of Victorian Freak show posters at the British Library’s website. Noting the importance of “titillating publicity” to the success of these shows, the BL website emphasizes how the  invariably “exaggerated and stylised illustrations” of the posters graphically framed and pathologized the performers’ physical difference. Continue reading “Victorian Freak Show Posters”

Dr Marigold and Mr Chops: Dickens Reprised

Two years before his death, in 1868, Charles Dickens famously toured the United States, giving public readings of his work. Mark Twain was in the audience in New York and admitted to being “a great deal disappointed” at Dickens’s performance. He records, “what a bright, intelligent audience he had! He ought to have made them laugh, or cry, or shout, at his own good will or pleasure — but he did not. They were very much tamer than they should have been.” Continue reading “Dr Marigold and Mr Chops: Dickens Reprised”

Tangled Up in Blue

 Illustration from the 1875 Chatto & Windus Piccadilly Novel
Illustration from the 1875 Chatto & Windus Piccadilly Ed. of Poor Miss Finch

A striking coincidence: while writing a funding proposal for a project on epilepsy in the Victorian imagination, this interview popped up on The Huffington Post. It’s a segment from The Today Show with Paul Karason, the “blue man” who’s been treating a skin condition with colloidal silver for over a decade. (The show seems to have a penchant for curious bodies—just yesterday they featured an young girl who’s been sneezing ten times a minute for the past two weeks.)

Anyway, I was particularly struck by Karason’s story because I’ve reading Wilkie Collins’ Poor Miss Finch, a highly original meditation on the intersections of disability and visibility.  Continue reading “Tangled Up in Blue”

Transatlanticism’s “radical claims”

I also attended the fascinating NAVSA session that Connie writes about: a conversation on “New Directions in Victoran Studies” between Amanda Claybaugh, Elaine Freedgood, Caroline Levine, John Plotz, and Andrew Stauffer.  I wanted to respond to Connie’s post here because, like Connie, I have also been considering Amanda Claybaugh’s claim that adhering to national boundaries in our study of literature is, at best, arbitrary, and, at worst, misleading.  Continue reading “Transatlanticism’s “radical claims””

Community-building through Victorian Deaf Periodicals (and Victorianist Blogs?)

As we begin this blogging journey, I am looking forward to participating in new networks of thinkers, writers, and readers with my fellow Floaters here at the Floating Academy and other bloggers and commenters in the academic blogosphere. This formation of an online network among those who share common interests, and how that network contributes to the formation of new communities has many historical precursors, of course, but the resemblance I keep coming back to is one that is related to my research in Victorian Deaf and Disability Studies. Continue reading “Community-building through Victorian Deaf Periodicals (and Victorianist Blogs?)”