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The Victorian freak show : the significance of disability and physical differences in 19th-century fiction

Author: Lillian Craton
Publisher: Amherst, NY : Cambria Press, ©2009.
Edition/Format:   Print book : EnglishView all editions and formats
Database:WorldCat
Summary:
"The Victorian freak show was at once mainstream and subversive. Spectacles of strange, exotic, and titillating bodies drew large middle-class audiences in England throughout much of the nineteenth century, and souvenir portraits of performing freaks even found their way into Victorian family albums. At the same time, the imagery and practices of the freak show shocked Victorian sensibilities and sparked controversy  Read more...
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Genre/Form: Criticism, interpretation, etc
Document Type: Book
All Authors / Contributors: Lillian Craton
ISBN: 9781604976533 1604976535
OCLC Number: 438054901
Description: xii, 244 pages ; 24 cm
Contents: Introduction: Physical difference and the nineteenth century --
Littleness in the novels of Charles Dickens --
The widest lap: fatness and nurturance in nineteenth-century fiction --
Female masculinity in sensational fiction, 1860-1890 --
The mutable body and the looking glass --
Conclusion: reflecting on the odd body.
Responsibility: Lillian Craton.

Abstract:

"The Victorian freak show was at once mainstream and subversive. Spectacles of strange, exotic, and titillating bodies drew large middle-class audiences in England throughout much of the nineteenth century, and souvenir portraits of performing freaks even found their way into Victorian family albums. At the same time, the imagery and practices of the freak show shocked Victorian sensibilities and sparked controversy about both the boundaries of physical normalcy and morality in entertainment. Marketing tactics for the freak show often made use of common ideological assumptions - compulsory female domesticity and British imperial authority, for instance - but reflected these ideas with the surreal distortion of a fun-house mirror. Not surprisingly, the popular fiction written for middle-class Victorian readers also calls upon imagery of extreme physical difference, and the odd-bodied characters that people nineteenth-century fiction raise meaningful questions about the relationships between physical difference and the social expectations that shaped Victorian life." "This book is primarily an aesthetic analysis of freak show imagery as it appears in Victorian popular fiction, including the works of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Guy de Maupassant, Florence Marryat, and Lewis Carroll. It argues that, in spite of a strong nineteenth-century impulse to define and defend normalcy, images of radical physical difference are often framed in surprisingly positive ways in Victorian fiction. The dwarves, fat people, and bearded ladies who intrude on the more conventional imagery of Victorian novels serve to shift the meaning of those works' main plots and characters, sometimes sharpening satires of the nineteenth-century treatment of the poor or disabled, sometimes offering new traits and behaviors as supplements for restrictive social norms."--Jacket.

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