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The anatomy of Charles Dickens: a study of bodily vulnerability in his novels Gavin, Adrienne Elizabeth 1994

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THE ANATOMY OF CHARLES DICKENS:A STUDY OF BODILY VULNERABILITY IN HIS NOVELSByADRIENNE ELIZABETH GAVINB.A., University of Auckland, 1986L.L.B. (Hons.), University of Auckland, 1986M.A. (Hons.), University of Auckland, 1988M.Phil., University of Cambridge, 1993A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OFTHE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OFDOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHYinTHE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES(Department of English)We accept this thesis as conformingApril 1994to the required standardTHE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA©Adrienne Elizabeth Gavin, 1994In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanceddegree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make itfreely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensivecopying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of mydepartment or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying orpublication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my writtenpermission.(Signature)Department ofThe University of British ColumbiaVancouver, CanadaDate 2O’’ t1oni I’1%DE-6 (2188)UTHESIS ABSTRACT“The Anatomy of Charles Dickens: A Study of Bodily Vulnerability in his Novels”by Adrienne E. GavinThis thesis examines the pervasive presence of the vulnerability of the human body inCharles Dickens’s writing. It demonstrates, through a collection and discussion of bodilyreferences drawn from the range of Dickens’s novels, that the the body’s vulnerability is, inconjunction with the use of humour and the literalizing of metaphorical references to the body,a crucial and fundamental element of both Dickens’s distinctive style and of his enduringliterary popularity.Chapter one provides evidence for the contention that a sense of physical vulnerabilitywas particularly intense in the Victorian era and that Dickens shared this awareness as hissocial and humanitarian interests and activities illustrate. The following chapter focuses onDickens’s more private concerns with the body, particularly upon his personal physical fearsand experiences, the public attention given to his body as a result of fame, his continual denialof his own physical frailties, and the interplay between his body and his writing all of whichprovided impetus to his literature.Chapters three, four, and five examine consecutively the ways in which physicalvulnerability—to damage, disease, and death, but most importantly to dismemberment—function in the novels. They do so on three broad levels: Character, Conversation, andExpression which depict in ascending order increasing bodily insecurity in Dickens’s texts.The Character level concerns the bodily forms and fates of Dickens’s characters. Wesee here that the more a player’s body is described the more vulnerable it will become, thusgood-hearted heroes are virtually “bodiless” and suffer little physical pain while evilcharacters are described in great anatomical detail and come to bodily harm. Dickens metesout “bodily justice” on this level in that he ensures that characters who have transgressedmthe rules of good conduct in his fictional world are physically punished for their misdeeds andthat bodily punishment is in direct proportion to the “crime” committed.On the Conversational level Dickens depicts extreme physical horrors by expressingthese things humorously, by putting descriptions of them in mouths variously andinterestingly accented, and, most significantly, by playing on the dual literal and metaphoricalmeanings of bodily references. Most of this anatomical dialogue is anecdotal and thereforeunverifiable, hypothetical and therefore unlikely to happen, or professional, i.e., spoken by“bodily experts” such as doctors or undertakers, and therefore irrefutable. Here exaggerationand extremes attract readers who are simultaneously fascinated and repelled by whatcharacters say of the body.Dickens’s methods of Expression reflect physical reality—all bodies are vulnerable tosudden damage just as Dickens can dismember a body suddenly either with the stroke of apen or by delaying its complete description. We see that on this level the body is at it mostvulnerable and is damaged by methods of expression rather than by narrative. Dickens hereplays most intensively with the literalization of metaphor, linguistically insisting that if a headappears around a doorway we can no longer assume that a body will follow. The novels arefilled with dictionally decapitated heads and severed limbs, but through the use of humour andby reanimating these members Dickens ensures that his style elicits not simply a reaction ofhorror in his readers but elicits a response to the grotesque—a strong instinctual attraction tohis work which is rooted in the body, not in the intellect.This dissertation concludes that the body’s vulnerability is not only a continualpresence in Dickens’s novels but is an under-examined yet fundamental element in whatmakes his writing style distinctive and what makes his work continually popular.ivTABLE OF CONTENTSABSTRACT 11LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS vACKNOWLEDGEMENTS viINTRODUCTION 1CHAPTER ONE: VULNERABILITY AND THE VICTORIAN BODY 11CHAPTER TWO: VULNERABILITY AND CHARLES DICKENS’S BODY 87CHAPTER THREE: CHARACTERIZING THE BODY 157CHAPTER FOUR: SPEAKING OF THE BODY 239CHAPTER FIVE: THE DICTION OF DISMEMBERMENT 299CONCLUSION 322BIBLIOGRAPHY 327VLIST OF ABBREVIATIONSAN American NotesAYR All the Year RoundBH Bleak HouseBR BarnabyRudgeDC David CopperfieldDS Dombey and SonED The Mystery of Edwin DroodGE Great ExpectationsHT Hard TimesHW Household WordsLD Little DorritLett.N The Nonesuch Edition of The Letters of Charles DickensLett.P The Pilgrim Edition of The Letters of Charles DickensMC Martin ChuzzlewitNN Nicholas NicklebyThe Old Curiosity ShopOMF Our Mutual FriendOT Oliver TwistP1 Pictures from ItalyPP The Pickwick PapersRP Reprinted PiecesSB Sketches by BozTiC A Tale of Two CitiesUT The Uncommercial TravellerReferences to Dickens’s novels are to The Clarendon Dickens where editions havebeen published. Quotations from novels not yet available in the series are from The World’sClassics edition (NN, TTC), the Penguin edition (BR, OCS, OMF), and the Norton CriticalEdition (BH, HI). Because of the varied accessibility of editions, chapter numbers have beenindicated as well as page numbers.References to Dickens’s letters are from the Pilgrim Edition where available (vols. 1-7 covering the years 1820-1855); the Nonesuch edition is used for letters not yet published inthe Pilgrim Edition.viACKNOWLEDGMENTSI wish to gratefully acknowledge the support and assistance I have received during thewriting of this dissertation from the following people and institutions.I would like to thank my thesis committee Professor I. B. Nadel, Professor J. L.Wisenthal, and Professor J. Winter for invaluable comment and suggestion as to how thisdissertation might be written and improved. My supervisor, Professor Nadel, in particular,has helped me from the earliest stages of this thesis by assisting me in finding a feasibleapproach to my topic and by accommodating the difficulties of revising this dissertation fromlong distance during my absence from Canada.I am grateful to the University of British Columbia for awarding me a GraduateFellowship during 1989-90. The inter-library loan section of the library of the University ofBritish Columbia were most helpful in handling the numerous requests for books made duringthe initial stages of this project.I thank Mark Eade for proofreading on extremely short notice, for long-distanceadministration, and for providing encouragement and suggestion during the writing of the firstdraft of this thesis.I thank Jeff Miller for kindly allowing me to use his computer to make my finalcorrections and revisions.I thank J. Dewayne Crawford for patience, proofreading on demand, selflessly lendingme his computer and continual support in even the most trying of circumstances.I thank my parents, John and Irene Gavin, for constant faith, support, andencouragement throughout the years and countries that have seen this dissertation beingwritten, and thank Raewyn, Claire, and Scott Gavin for the same.1IITRODUCTIONOf all the objects in the world, the human body has a peculiar status: it is not onlypossessed by the person who has it, it also possesses and constitutes him.... Ourbody is not, in short, something we have, it is a large part of what we actually are: it isby and through our bodies that we recognise our existence in the world, and it is onlyby being able to move in and act upon the world that we can distinguish it fromourselves.... Each of us ... has two images of the bodily self: one which is immediatelyfelt as the source of sensation and the spring of action, and one which we see andsometimes touch (Jonathan Miller, The Body in Question 14).The human body was central to Dickens’s life and to his art. In life he shared many ofthe anatomical fears and concerns of his contemporaries. In art his use of the body’svariabilities and vulnerabilities is unique. No other element in Dickens’s writing is asdistinctive as the way in which he treats the body, and nothing more signals a work asDickensian than the constancy with which he keeps anatomy before us. The body Dickensuses in his work is, preeminently, a vulnerable one; it appears deformed, damaged,dismembered and yet, despite such horrors, it is an essential element of his humour. It is inthe continual conjunction of comedy, the literalization of metaphor, and the vulnerability of thehuman physical form that one of Dickens’s greatest literary achievements lies; thisachievement is not only the power and singularity of his writing style but his ability toconnect viscerally, immediately, and fundamentally to his readers. This dissertation willdemonstrate, by collecting and discussing significant bodily references over the range ofDickens’s novels, that the vulnerability of the body is of crucial and cardinal importance indefining what is most distinctive and enduringly popular in Dickens’s work.The “body” of course is currently much in critical vogue, for those researching thenineteenth century as for those studying our own.1 Much recent theory and discussion of thesubject centres on historico-medical models of anatomy or on the body as a basis foreconomic or political thought. Michel Foucault’s examinations of the body in terms ofdiscipline, clinical medicine, and the history of sexuality have been highly influential. Other2studies, by writers such as Bryan Turner and Mike Featherstone have focussed on the bodyfrom a sociological perspective. Feminist theory, too, has formed a powerful impetus to“writing the female body,” and, as in Helena Michie’s work, has provided a basis forexamination of the body in light of issues such as illness, sexuality, and textuality. ElaineScarry has also focussed on analyzing pain and the body while other writers have examinedthe body as a social metphor; Chris Baldick, for instance, examines the myths and use of themonstrous body in nineteenth-century discourse.There is at the moment a ready assumption that any work on the use of the body inliterature will be aligned with one of these proliferating schools of bodily theory and will, inparticular, have as its chief focus sexuality or the portrayal of women’s bodies. It is wise tostate at the outset, therefore, that this dissertation has no theoretical affiliation for a numberof reasons. First, while sexuality in Dickens’s novels is briefly discussed in terms of threatsof sexual violence, his depiction of sexuality is not notably different from that of other writersof his era. Secondly, while there are, inevitably, some differences in his portrayal of femaleand male bodies, this again is not an area in which Dickens’s writing is distinctive. Thirdly,Dickens’s own literary use of the body is rooted in the physical not the philosophical; indeed,he ridicules characters who philosophize about the body.Because no comprehensive or systematic study of the body in Dickens’s work hasbefore now been attempted, this study takes an empirical approach based on a close readingof his novels. What this examination demonstrates is not something peculiar to two or threeof the novels but a consistent anatomical element throughout his work, therefore, all of hisnovels are considered rather than only a select few. The research methods used for thisdissertation include a historical overview of the vulnerability of the body in the nineteenthcentury, a biographical analysis of Dickens’s personal dealings with the body, and theextraction of bodily references from Dickens’s novels. These anatomical references andexamples show the constancy with which Dickens keeps the body before his readers andprovide a basis for analysis of the ways in which he uses the body in fiction.3It is perhaps because anatomy is such an inherent part of Dickens’s fictional worldand technique, and so obviously important to it, that no study has yet examined the aspectfully. Work that has considered the body in Dickens’s work has usually concentrated on thephysical appearances of his characters2or seen the prevalent use of dismemberment in thenovels as a metaphor for social breakdown or change.3 Perhaps the most sustainedexamination of the Dickensian body to date is Juliet McMaster’ s Dickens the Designer whichdiscusses the importance of flesh to the visual nature of Dickens’s writing and shows thatexternal appearance is an index to the souls and natures of characters. She examines the“iconography of physical appearance” (xiii), in order to “extract the terminology of his body-language” (xiii) and points to the physiognomical and phrenological signalling inherent inDickens’s bodily descriptions of his characters. McMaster’s focus is “on what Dickens sees,rather than on the means by which he writes it down” (xi). My focus, however, while takinginto consideration the visual appearances of Dickens’s characters, is precisely on how hewrites things down. Dickens’s constant use of the body and of the debilities and damage thatcan harm it is not confined to the physiques of his characters but pervades the language withwhich they speak and the methods of expression that he as a writer stylistically chooses. InDickens’s world there is more to the body than meets the eye.Dickens’s imagination goes beyond the visual, and transcends anything that can betranslated into film or other visual medium, this is why, for example, television adaptations ofhis novels, even when admirable in point of historical accuracy, costuming, and casting, cannever capture the essence of his art. All aspects of the body in Dickens’s novels are rooted inlanguage, in the literalizing of the metaphorical or figurative, and it is through this use oflanguage that his bodies, or more usually parts of bodies, attract readers in a subconscious,emotional, and visceral way. No film could ever successfully portray, for example, the commonmotif in Dickens’s writing of a “linguistically decapitated” head coming into a room. We, asbodies ourselves and accustomed to the ways of our world, expect a head entering a room tobe followed by the rest of the body, but Dickens deliberately subverts our expectations by4literalizing the figurative and implicitly insisting, at least for a paragraph or two, that only ahead has entered the room—a head animate enough to carry on pages of conversation. Theattraction, repulsion, humour and horror of such a scene connects the reader bodily toDickens’s texts and anything (such as a film) that attempts to intervene between ourimaginations and the language in which Dickens’s bodies are presented on the page willinevitably destroy the effect, just as seeing a fat person is not at all the same thing as readingthe language in which Dickens chooses to describe one.In transforming into literature the fears and imaginings that he shares with us allabout what can happen to the body, Dickens emphasizes the comic, uses “extreme”examples and grotesque descriptions, perhaps allowing us to feel, as he puts it in “LyingAwake,” “temporary superiority to the common hazards and mischances of life” (436). Theattraction-repulsion, for it is inextricably both, of Dickens’s use of the body operates on thereader directly, immediately, even unconsciously, and it works unimpeded by a need to learnanything or to think anything out. Dickens does not philosophize about the body but cutsstraight to the quick. If a leg is cut off in a Dickens novel, we feel, mind and body, what thatmeans—we know instinctively and emotionally rather than intellectually that this is not justsomething that can happen to a character in a book; we know, just as Dickens does, that itcould just as easily and randomly be our leg that is severed.We can think about our bodies as being separate from our “essence,” but at the sametime we know that there can be no “essence” without a body and that we also are ourbodies; if our body dies, we die. This conflicting view of ourselves creates a tension which isinherent in our lives and in Dickens’s work. Because of his own particular fears, Dickenscapitalizes on this tension, granting his novels immediate appeal to readers who to varyingdegrees share the same fears or can without much difficulty be provoked into sharing them. Inhis texts Dickens both reveals and controls the vulnerability of the human form and appealsto readers’ innate interest in the body.5The following examination considers aspects of bodily vulnerability such as diseaseand death, and, to a greater extent, deformity and disfigurement, but Dickens’s primaryliterary brand of physical insecurity is dismemberment. Dismemberment in his writingincludes not only the prevalence of wooden legs or the violent end of a character such asCarker, but also the existence of stylistically animated body parts which are an importantcomponent of Dickens’s methods of expression. This dismembering is not primarily ametaphor for the break down of beliefs or other changes and upheavals in society as it was forother writers of his time, but is personal, individual, and private, reflecting the innate risk ofour own bodies being maimed or dismembered. It is something that Dickens was well awareof and used to the fullest in his fiction. Just as Fanny Squeers records that she is “screamingout loud all the time [she] write[sJ” (NN 175; ch. 15), Dickens has metamorphosed his (andour) personal pains and fears into literary pleasure.This study begins in chapter one with an examination of the vulnerability of the body inthe nineteenth century. It will show that Dickens shared contemporary social concern withthe body as well as entertainment based fascination with it. Above all, the Victorian bodywas a vulnerable one and the sections in this chapter will discuss some of the changes,threats, and experiences that nineteenth-century anatomy saw or had to endure. Changes inmedical thought and practice, the dangers of disease, and issues of public health arediscussed together with the scandalous attractions of dissection, resurrection, and murder.Advances in surgery, the types of accidents faced and cures tried are examined in addition toa brief look at Victorian penal techniques. The era’s enjoyment of entertainment whichcentred on the body, for example waxworks and freak shows, is shown as is the popularappeal of executions. Dickens’s social and public concerns with the body are used asexamples of both his own reaction to the physical perils of the age and as typical of theresponse of many civically minded Victorians. The chapter concludes by looking at the use ofthe body in the work of other nineteenth-century writers in order to determine how Dickens’s6use of it is distinctive and by asking whether Dickens’s civic and humanitarian concerns withthe body in life mark him out as a social anatomist in his use of the body in art.The second chapter is a biographical examination of aspects of Dickens’s life andthought concerning the body and illustrates the private side of his bodily experiences aschapter one does the public. It shows that Dickens was aware of threats to the body from anearly age and that these fears and concerns remained with him throughout his life. Earlyhorror stories of cannibalism and dismemberment told to him by his nurse together with hisown reading influenced him as did his own physical hardships in the blacking factory and otherlife experiences such as bereavements and lifelong illness. His early fame, too, meant that hisbody quickly became subject to public scrutiny and comment, and the chapter examines howother people reacted to Dickens’s body as well as how he reacted to his own—by denying itsillnesses and driving it forward at all costs leading eventually to his own death. For Dickensthe physical was often connected to the fiscal and he wrote in part to protect himself and hisfamily from the hazards and bodily insecurities of debt or financial loss. The chapter’s finalcomments move into a discussion of Dickens’s literary use of the body focusing primarily onthe toll of his work on his own body, the physical methods by which he wrote, his use ofhumour, and the interplay of literal and metaphorical in his art. By using comedy andliteralizing metaphor Dickens imaginatively transforms his own bodily fears into art. At thesame time he simultaneously attracts and repels readers, drawing them into his literary worldon an emotional, visceral level rather than on an intellectual one.Chapters three, four, and five examine consecutively the ways in which the bodyfunctions on three broad levels in Dickens’s novels, namely, the levels of Character,Conversation, and Expression. The Character level concerns the bodily forms and fates of thecharacters in his novels. Conversation refers to characters’ comments and anecdotes aboutthe body, and Expression refers to non-conversational diction, at the level of words andsentences, through which the body is dismembered or vulnerably described. These levels, in7Character—Conversation—Expression order, increasingly reveal the vulnerability of thebody.Chapter three examines the bodies of Dickens’s characters and shows that the more abody is described in the world of Dickens the more vulnerable that character’s body willbecome. On this level anatomy and what happens to it are closely related to the inner naturesand external behaviours of characters and are controlled for such purposes. The chapterdemonstrates that Dickens uses “bodily justice” in depicting his characters—they will bephysically punished for transgressing the moral and physical laws of his literary world. Thesexuality of Dickens’s characters is briefly discussed here in terms of physical vulnerabilityand this examination reveals that sexual threateners are punished physically while theirvictims will end unharmed. Similar patterns prevail when other groups of characters areanalyzed. “Heroes” and “gentlemen,” whose bodies are scarcely described at all, undergovery little bodily vulnerability and what damage is inflicted upon them is generally forredeeming or noble purposes, increasingly so as Dickens’s career progressed. Children,however, face widespread physical insecurity. Deformed characters, it is shown, are oftenmotivated by their anatomical insufficiencies to seek control over other people’s bodies.“Evil” deformed characters like Quilp who are described in great physical detail inevitablymeet with situations that reveal fully to them the vulnerabilities of their flesh. “Good”deformed characters like Phil Squod demonstrate acceptance of their bodies, find fulfillingoccupations near those with “perfect” bodies, and are not repeatedly physically described byDickens. Those characters who are physically damaged during novels show Dickens’s bodilyjustice at its clearest—the worse the behaviour the harsher the corporeal punishment he willhand down. He ensures, for example, that a villain like Carker gets the violent, dismemberedend that he deserves or that Pecksniff’ s self-centred “moral” behaviour is undercut byslapstick bodily ignominy. This chapter also discusses the sites Dickens favours foranatomical description and injury and looks at illnesses suffered by characters including thepossibility of laughing oneself to death. Descriptions of dead bodies, particularly those of8murder victims are examined before the chapter ends with a summary of changes inDickens’s depictions of characters’ bodies over his novel-writing career.The conversational use of the body is examined in chapter four. In dialogue a higherdegree of physical vulnerability is revealed than in character description. Dickens usesinteresting and varied accents and speech patterns to create humour on this level and playson the double literal and metaphorical meanings of his references to the body. Bodilycomments fall into three main categories, those that are anecdotal, those that arehypothetical, and those that are professional. Anecdotes are miniature bodily tales in whichthe speaker is relating events that have happened to a third party’s body, i.e. they arehearsay evidence; “hypotheticals” include comments such as threats or oaths that areunlikely to be carried out in fact, and professional conversation is that spoken by “bodilyexperts” such as doctors, undertakers, or resurrectionists and thus, on the surface at least,irrefutable. Dickens takes the fear of an event such as a sausage maker falling into a sausagemachine and being made into sausages himself and, through the language in which hischaracters tell the story, turns it into comedy. We, as bodies ourselves, are fascinated bysuch tales just as Dickens’s characters are and we are drawn into his world by our delight inlaughing at what in other mouths would sound horrific. Dickens’s increasing play on the literaland metaphorical which is a key element of his “anatomical art” means that, on this level,means of expression as well as narrative begin to dismember the body. The chapter finishesby briefly considering changes in “bodily dialogue” over the course of the novels, moving fromthe more purely comic and ridiculous of the early novels to the darker or more realistic, butnevertheless still humorous, of the later novels.Chapter five considers Dickens’s methods of Expression. It is on this level that hiswriting is at its most grotesque and the body is at its most vulnerable. It is here, too, thatDickens most consistently plays on the double literal and metaphorical meanings of words,and methods of expression rather than narrative become the chief source of dismemberment.The chapter shows that for Dickens the body’s vulnerability is frequently connected with9language. All bodies are vulnerable to death, dismemberment, or destruction at any momentjust as Dickens can dismember a body suddenly either with the stroke of a pen or by delayingits complete description. The fragmentation of the body that occurs through his dictionundercuts and subverts the sense of bodily security that he maintains to varying degrees onthe other levels and reflects the reality of the body’s precarious situation. The chapter showsthat his writing style proliferates with severed heads and other body parts which enter roomsunattached to torsos or float dismembered through his novels. By linguistically insisting thatit is only a head that enters a room, Dickens creates rhetorical suspense by forcing the readerto wait to discover whether the rest of the body will follow or whether a head will remain justa head, an arm just an arm. His diction and style reflect his own fears and the innate bodilyanxieties of his readers who are thus drawn physically into his work, even if onlysubconsciously, and feel instinctually rather than intellectually the impact of his playing withthe body. The discussion shows, however, that he does not let us grimace in pure horror athis dismembering but introduces comedy and reasserts control over the body by reanimatingthe physical parts he has severed and by giving them an independent life of their own.The body’s vulnerability and its connection with language and, humour in Dickens’snovels is a central and significant element of his art. He draws readers in who are bothattracted and repelled by his use of anatomy because they have bodies and physical fearsthemselves. By transforming his body and his physical fears into his novels, Dickens has notonly assured himself of a large readership but has in a sense preserved his own body, orparts of it, in perpetuity between the covers of his texts. And from time to time, his body istaken out, re-dressed, and brushed up for fresh public appearance as he is re-published andre-edited, a thought that would probably, in the words of Mr. Venus, “equally surprise andcharm” him. We are thus left not only with pieces of Dickens’s mind but also with pieces ofhis body articulate enough to reveal the innate vulnerability of all our bodies.NOTESI The essays in Gallagher and Laqueur, for example, discuss aspects of the body in theVictorian period such as sexuality, social discourses including medicine, and perceptions ofthe female body. Sociological considerations include Feher, et al; Turner; O’Neill, whoincludes a chapter on medical bodies; Featherstone, et al ,who includes the overview “RecentDevelopments in the Theory of the Body” by Bryan S. Turner 1-35; Kern contains much onsexuality. The essays in Scarry, ed., Literature and the Body take a variety of approaches.On the philosophy of the medical body see, for example, Gadow.2 See, for instance, Juliet McMaster. A series of articles by Hollington also discusscharacters’ bodies from a physiognomical perspective.See, for example, Newsom, “Embodying Dombey”; Hutter; Gibbon.1011CHAPTER ONE: VULNERABILITY AND THE VICTORIAN BODY‘dead and buried, and resurrected and dissected, and hung upon wires in a anatomicalmuseum’ (NN 780; ch. 60).The vulnerability of the human body was as ubiquitous in the nineteenth century asthe sexuality of it is today. Victorians did not have to look far for evidence that their hold onlife or limb was tenuous. Their bodies were, in general, smaller than bodies are today; theywere shorter, lighter, suffered more unalleviated pain, aged faster, and died sooner. Physicaldeformities were less easily “remedied” by operation or institutionalization and so weremore commonly seen. Disease was a major risk and longevity a comparative rarity. Infantmortality was high, standards of health care often low. The number of possible ends a bodycould come to seemed to be multiplying. It could be murdered “most foully.” It could bedismembered alive or dissected dead. It could be squashed into an overflowing graveyard, inas many pieces as would best fit, or dug up after burial and sold to anatomists. It could bewatched by the multitudes as it writhed in operative pain. It could be hanged by the neck untildead before an excited crowd and then be dissected. It could be put on display, in flesh orwax. It could starve or sicken in numbers or conditions that were a direct product of Victoriansociety. All of this pain, dismembering, cutting, disease, and anatomical excess could be seenand investigated by anyone who chose to look or listen in the streets. It is not surprising thenthat Charles Dickens, with pairs of the keenest ears and eyes of his time, should beinfluenced artistically by the anatomical elements that were so pervasive around him.Although the way in which Dickens uses the human body in his novels, its constantpresence in his work, and the sheer importance of the body to his writing style are distinctive,he shared many of the physical fears and concerns of his contemporaries. It is, therefore,important to examine aspects of the vulnerability of the nineteenth-century body, includingmedical practices, disease, public health, dissection and resurrection, surgical procedures,12accidents, health treatments, penal techniques, the “popularity” of murder, and thefascination with exotic or unique body types, in order to picture more clearly the anatomicalmelee in which Dickens was working and out of which features of his own work sprang. Thediscussion focuses primarily on general Victorian physical fears and anatomical interests anduses examples of Dickens’s own social interests and actions regarding the body asillustrative of reactions (at least middle-class ones) of the age. The chapter will conclude bybriefly examining some of the uses the body was put to in the work of other novelists of theperiod, and by considering whether the constant presence of the vulnerable body in Dickens’swork can be seen as a metaphor for the social anatomy of the age in which he lived.1The first aspect to comment on is the development of innovative medical practicesduring the Victorian age. Modern medicine was born in the nineteenth century when medicinechanged from an empiric art to a rational science.1 Dramatic advances were made indiscovering the causes of disease and in its prevention and treatment. The agonies of surgerywere, for the first time, reduced. Nevertheless, hospitals, which were the basis for teaching,learning, clinical observation, and dissection—for cutting open and revealing the body—turned away whomsoever they chose, and at times only the most unusual or abnormal caseswere treated or, as dead bodies, sought after.2 Not infrequently people desperately seekingurgent medical attention were bureaucratically shunted away and left to die unattended in thestreets .3Two key elements of nineteenth-century clinical medicine were the physicalexamination of the living body and the dissection of the dead. The living body was consideredin a new way. It was now “examined” by doctors: tested, touched, compared to the abnormaland, with Laennec’s invention of the stethoscope in 1819, listened to, and no longer merelyobserved. As Foucault discusses in The Birth of the Clinic the medical gaze changed. In fact,it was no longer a gaze, but a touch, an awareness of anatomy and physiology, learned13through dissection, of what was beneath the surface. The humoural theories and to someextent the patient-diagnosed medicine of previous decades were disappearing. Despite thegeneral Victorian concern with health, however, the new emphasis on pathological anatomymeant that bodies, in a medical sense, were defined more in terms of normality versusdeformity than of healthiness.Several articles in Dickens’s Household Words discuss specific anatomical organs orsystems, thereby reflecting the increasing knowledge of anatomy and physiology even amongthe general public. “Man Magnified,” for instance, describes human skin, hair, fat, teeth, andblood as seen under a microscope (HW 4 [1851]: 13-15). “The Laboratory in the Chest”discusses respiration in the human body (HW 1 [1850]: 565-69), while “Our OwnTemperature” (HW 6 [1852]: 11-12) examines bodily temperature making, in light ofDickens’s career, the interesting comment that “Original writing or study, or any intellectualeffort, raises the temperature of the body even more decidedly than bodily exertion” (l2).IIA rise in temperature could also, of course, mean disease, and it was to disease aboveall that the nineteenth-century body was vulnerable.5Typhoid fever, smallpox, cholera,typhus, influenza and other ailments ravaged the population in waves. The years 183 1-33saw epidemics of influenza and the first of four pandemics of cholera (recurring in 1848-49,1853-54, 1866-67). During 1836-1842 there were major epidemics of influenza, typhus (gaolfever), smallpox, and scarlet fever. 1846-1849 brought the return of typhus and cholera, aswell as cases of typhoid (Ackerknecht, “Anticontagionism” 575; Cartwright, Social 79; Haley6).Typhoid fever was a bacterial, intestinal disease, spread, like cholera, by the ingestionof particles from the faeces of a human disease carrier, often through contaminated water ormilk. This malady was not clearly distinguished during Dickens’s lifetime from typhus fever, arickettsial blood disease, spread by fleas (McMurtry 131; Wohl 127; Mitchell 270). Typhoid14caused listlessness, a continuous high fever, loss of appetite, and diarrhoea; “it not onlycontinued as a major disease throughout the nineteenth century ... it also affected all classes”(Wohi 127). Indeed it was from typhoid fever that Prince Albert died in 1861, and Dickens,summering in Boulogne in 1856, rushed family members home when warned of a typhoid6epidemic there:The townspeople ... had suppressed the news ‘for the sake of their own interests.’...In June, twenty children had died.... When Katie developed a cough and lost herappetite, she and Mamie [Dickens’s daughters] were sent home. Fortunately, itturned out to be only the whooping cough (Kaplan, Biography, 350-5 1).Dramatist and Punch staffer Gilbert a Beckett and his son, however, died in the epidemic(Kaplan, Biography 351).Dickens, like almost everyone in the nineteenth century, was fully aware of thedangers of the spread of disease. Three years earlier he had written of malaria attackingRome:Rome has been very unhealthy, and is not free now. Few people care to be out at thebad times of sunset and sunrise, and the streets are like a desert at night.... Imaginethis phantom knocking at the gates of Rome; passing them; creeping along the streets;haunting the aisles and pillars of the churches; year by year more encroaching, andmore impossible of avoidance (Lett.P 7: 202-03).Bleak House clearly reflects the inescapability of disease by focussing on the“democratic” nature of smallpox, a disease, like typhoid, which “did not afflict the poor andspare the rich like ... typhus fever” (Major, Destiny 114). Although the nineteenth centurysaw a decline in deaths from smallpox, the incidence was high, and the many who, like EstherSummerson, survived were usually marked for life with facial disfigurement, a stigma of thebody’s vulnerability (Cartwright, Social 79).7Cholera,8 “like typhoid, [was] spread by the ingestion of contaminated particles ofhuman waste but it [was] more virulent” (McMurtry 131) and struck greater terror intopeople because of the high death rate among those contracting the disease, the ostensiblyhealthy people who died from it, and the speed of its attack. In 1832 thirty cholera-relatedriots broke out in Britain, most15were inspired by fears that medical students and doctors were taking advantage of thecholera to obtain bodies for their anatomy classes, and it was rumoured that they weremurdering cholera victims. ‘Choleraphobia’, which could strike miles from the centre ofthe epidemic ... was almost always linked with fears of body-snatching (‘Burking’),premature burial, or burial in unconsecrated ground (Wohi 119).Millions in Europe died from cholera and Dickens wrote in 1849: “The cholera has been, as nodoubt you know, very bad in London—chiefly among the poor and badly lodged. I am happy tosay we are all well, and have not lost any friends by the dire disease” (Lett.P 5: 630).Dickens was aware, however, just as those he corresponded with were, that all people, notjust the poor, were vulnerable to the disease. He had recently learned, for instance, thatThackeray’0had contracted cholera, and Mamie Dickens, his daughter, was to catch thedisease in Boulogne in 1854: “Mary was taken very ill. English Cholera. She was sinking sofast, and the sickness and diarrhoea were so exceedingly alarming that it evidently would notdo to wait for Elliotson. I caused everything to be done that one had naturally often thoughtof’ (Lett.P 7: 424).Disease was a constant subject of both discussion and fear for the Victorians. Somethrew their anxiety into working towards preventative measures. Dickens, for instance,campaigned vigorously for proper city sanitation, and when cholera broke out in England,particularly affecting the poor, “he attacked Parliament and the Law with a ferocity which wasaltogether new” (Ackroyd 709). In “To Working Men” (HW 10 [1854]: 169-70) he writesthat “the authorities who had allowed cholera to spread unchecked ... ‘are guilty, beforeGOD, of wholesale murder” (in Ackroyd 709) and advises workers to unite and turn suchleaders out of office.Despite, however, the great publicity surrounding cholera and the dread it invoked,it was ‘fever’ which throughout the nineteenth century stimulated the most action fromboth central and local authorities. Cholera came and went, but, as the Privy Councilnoted in 1864, ‘typhus fever appears never to be wholly absent....’ Frequently rising toepidemic proportions, the various fevers were always endemic. Fever drew attentionto filth and to poverty and so forced authorities to come to terms with public health,that is, with social and environmental conditions, with living standards broadlyconstrued (Wohi 125).16Typhus epidemics occurred in 1837-1839, 1847-1848, and 1862-1865 (Mitchell 270),accounting for deaths of 19,000 in 1837 and 17,000 in 1847 (Walvin 28). Other diseases cutequally dramatic swathes: “Whooping cough alone killed 10,000 each year at mid-century....Similarly scarlet fever struck most severely in towns; between 1859 and 1875 it was thecause of 4-6 per cent of all deaths in England and Wales” (Walvin 28). Influenza was alwayshovering in the wings and erupted into pandemics “in 1830-1, 1836-7, 1843, 1847-8, 1855,1870, and again in 1889-92. In the outbreak of 1847-8 there were 50,000 deaths in Londonalone from influenza, a figure some five times greater than that for cholera deaths in 1849”(Wohl 128). Dickens wrote in December 1847:London is in a very hideous state of mud and darkness. Everybody is laid up with theInfluenza, except all the disagreeable people, and they are very punctual in coming andtalking about it. I was at the Theatre (the Shakespeare House benefit) on Tuesday,and a most extraordinary effect was produced by the whole audience being in aparoxysm of sniffing, during the whole of the entertainments (Lett.P 5: 207).The editors of the Pilgrim edition of Dickens’s letters note that he was not exaggerating: “Inthe week ending 11 Dec London had an increase of 130% in the average mortality rate for theseason, mainly from influenza, pneumonia and respiratory diseases” (Lett.P 5: 207 n. 3).Diptheria became pandemic in 1855-1856 (Mitchell 271), and twenty to twenty-five percentof those who contracted diptheria or scarlet fever died (Wohl 130). Dickens’s fiancée andfuture mother-in-law both survived attacks of scarlet fever in 1835, as did his eldest sonCharley in 1847. 1Frederick Cartwright writes that “Three major evils, alcohol, syphilis andtuberculosis, damaged the people of industrial Britain to an extent even greater than smallpoxor cholera” (Social 1 14).12 Consumption was indeed the number one killer of the Victorianera; it “every year killed more people in nineteenth-century Britain than smallpox, scarletfever, measles, whooping cough and typhus fever put together” (Cartwright, Social 123). Itcaused probably “one-third of all deaths from disease in the Victorian period” (Wohl 130)17and killed “one Briton in six throughout the nineteenth century.... In 1838 alone 59,000 peopledied from the disease in England and Wales” (Walvin 28).13Although hitting hardest in poorer, ill-ventilated areas, tuberculosis reached all levelsand was thought during Dickens’s lifetime to be hereditary. Dickens worried at times that ithad entered his own bloodline, and with some reason. His elder sister Fanny died of thedisease in 1848 aged thirty-eight, as did various sons and brothers.14Death rates15 and life expectancies reveal just how vulnerable the nineteenth-centurybody was to disease.16 Figures in Edwin Chadwick’s Report on the Sanitary Condition of theLabouring Population of Great Britain, which Dickens read, “show that in 1839 for everyperson who died of old age or violence, eight died of specific diseases” (Haley 8). For adults,the “average age of death stood at forty-five years in 1850” (Cartwright, Social 188), but for“labourers, mechanics, and servants, &c.” it was only fifteen (Haley 8). Forty-five wasalso the age at which “Middle age settled into old age” (Smith 316), and when “themorbidity rates showed a sharp increase” (Smith 320). This is certainly true of Dickens’scontemporaries, as even a cursory glance through the letters he wrote from about the age ofthirty-five on quickly reveals, for, although Dickens was only fifty-eight when he died, manyof his friends pre-deceased him.17Various explanations about the causes of disease were favoured as the centuryprogressed and new discoveries were made. One of the most popular beliefs and one whoseinfluence can be seen in Dickens’s work, especially in Bleak House, was the theory ofmiasma, or pythogenic theory. This view held that disease was caused by a poisonouseffluent or gas which rose from damp rotting material, overcrowded graveyards, cesspits,sewers and other filthy areas, and, as a miasma, was carried by air into people’s lungs oropen wounds, causing disease and, eventually, leading to epidemics.A debate raged between the contagionists who believed in quarantine and theanticontagionists, many of whom were miasmatists, including Dickens’s friend and allyThomas Southwood Smith, who believed that most diseases were not contagious and thus18could not be prevented by quarantining.18The real problem was lack of sanitation, andcontaminated water supplies, and one benefit of the dominance of the anticontagionist viewduring Dickens’s writing years was that its followers, in order to prevent disease, foughtagainst filth and tried to improve sanitation.19ifiAnother aspect of Victorian physical vulnerability centred on the acutely substandardliving conditions of the urban poor and the concomitant problems associated with this. Thedeath rate was high in cities in large part due to diseases caused by the unavailability ofproper sewage disposal, paucity of clean drinking water, presence of polluted air, unhealthyliving and working conditions among the lower classes, and malnutrition from tainted oradulterated food. The high death rate, in turn, accelerated the cycle; graveyards began tooverflow, leading to more disease, a ghastlier environment, and a keener awareness of whatmight become of the body. These were problems that public health reformers, sanitationists,and concerned civically minded figures like Charles Dickens tried to remedy.Perhaps the greatest problems were caused by the quantities of sewage in denselypopulated areas combined with inadequate sewerage; these led to contaminated watersupplies20 that in turn led, although not fully realized at the time, to the virulent spread ofdisease. By merely drinking a glass of water in London during the early half of the century onebecame vulnerable to disease and death:In cities, human wastes went into cesspools dug under the houses or courtyards, fromwhich seepage through the soil into nearby wells was easy: The more crowded thehousing, the more likelihood of a merger between cesspool and well. The sewers thathad been built simply poured raw sewerage [sic] into the nearest body of water—water dipped up in buckets by the poor and carried, untreated, into their houses. In thepoorest sections, human waste was simply dumped into the streets (McMurtry 133).It was not just the poor that were affected, however, for although a wealthy citydweller might have more light, better ventilation, a more nutritious diet, less physicalexhaustion, and simply more personal space in which to exist, he or she still might have to19drink contaminated water and travel through places in the city that were rife with infection.This said, it was the poorest of the poor, in their cramped and filthy rookeries or slums, whowere most affected by this lack of sanitation and who were considered by many a greatnuisance if not the cause of the whole problem. It was not only living conditions that putpeople at risk; the working environments of, and hours spent by, labourers, especiallychildren, in factories, mills, and mines became matters of concern as the century progressed,and, stage by stage, Acts were passed to improve these situations. It was true, though, thatin the nineteenth century a body, even if only a child’s, could be little more than factory fodder:The long hours, the dust, the fumes, dangerous belt-drives, badly geared, ill-protectedpower machinery, heavy weights, the inexorable pace of power-driven looms, themiles children walked in a day in textile mills and brickyards, and gratuitous brutalityfrom overlookers and compeers, together overtaxed child operatives, sometimesmaimed or killed them, and commonly made them old before their time (Smith 170-7 1).We are, of course, used to hearing such stories about working children in the Victorianperiod, just as most are familiar with Dickens’s boyhood experiences working in a blackingfactory. The two facts, however, have not been connected explicitly enough, inasmuch as weneed to realize that Dickens as a boy actually was one of these “labouring hind[s],” whowere not merely characters created by his fiction or recorded in social commentary. Dickens’svulnerability during his period in the warehouse must naturally be seen as one importantsource for his pronounced literary and personal awareness of the precarious existence of thehuman form.In his adult years, Dickens took a great interest in public institutions concerned withthe body, wandering through “freak shows” of his own choosing with a remarkable lack ofbureaucratic prevention. Prisons, workhouses, hospitals, insane asylums, institutes for thedeaf and blind, the Paris Morgue, the slums and rookeries of London, all crammed with bodiesin precarious situations, were easy entertainment for the interested or compassionate likeDickens and others who were concerned with improving physical welfare. Essentially, he wasobserving bodies, seeing what the body could come to and the conditions it might have to20endure: the squalor, dirt, unhealthiness, crowdedness, the dangers of attack by criminals ordisease—in short, its vulnerability and the causes of its vulnerability. He was much involved,novelistically, journalistically, and practically in moves to improve public health,21 believingthatSanitary improvements are the one thing needful to begin with;—and until they arethoroughly, efficiently, and uncompromisingly made (and every bestial little prejudiceand supposed interest contrariwise, crushed under foot) even Education itself will fallshort of its uses (Lett.P 7:236).Dickens knew what he was writing about in this regard for not only did his night walks22through the slums and poor areas of London reveal it but, early in his career, Dickens in factlivedalongside one of the most squalid areas in the whole metropolis. A short stroll wouldhave taken him to Saffron Hill, and the neighbourhood of Field Lane where ‘excrementwas thrown into a little back yard where it was allowed to accumulate for monthstogether’; and there, beside it, Fleet Ditch, which was no more than an open sewer offetid water (Ackroyd 219).He was also a member of a number of sanitary associations such as the MetropolitanSanitary Association23and the Association for the Improvement of London WorkhouseInfirmaries.24He was interested in the Children’s Employment Commission,25and withAngela Burdett Coutts established Urania Cottage for the reformation of prostitutes.26He“even went so far as to graft some of [Southwood] Smith’s report [on the sanitary conditionsof the poor] verbatim into [Oliver Twist’s] text” (Gaskell, “Reform” 115). Although herefused more than one request to stand for Parliament, he had an unfulfilledambition for some public employment—some Commissionership, or Inspectorship, orthe like.... On any questions connected with the Education of the People, the elevationof their character, the improvement of their dwellings, their greater protection againstdisease and vice—or with the treatment of Criminals, or the administration of PrisonDiscipline.... I think I could do good service, and I am sure I should enter with mywhole heart. I have hoped, for years, that I may become at last a Police Magistrate(Lett.P 4: 566-67).Apart from friendships with public health reformers such as Southwood Smith,Dickens had even closer ties to the “movement.” Henry Austin, Edwin Chadwick’s21“favourite Engineer” (Ackroyd 381), had married Dickens’s youngest sister, Letitia, andwas appointed secretary to the Health of Towns Association in 1844, to the general Board ofHealth in 1848, to the Sanitary commission in 1847 and retained under the Sanitary Act.27Dickens’s brother, Alfred, “also a civil engineer, became one of the sanitary inspectors”(Forster 2: 12).Dickens also wrote journalistically about public health; four articles by him werepublished in the Examiner in 1849 on the subject of the Tooting Scandal which concerned achild-farm run by Bartholomew Drouet at which one hundred and fifty children had died ofcholera because of the appalling conditions in which they lived.28 He sought “to promote theSanitary cause” (Lett.P 6: 132) in Household Words, writing to Henry Austin in 1850, “Youwill see that I have done something Sanitary this week. Also in the next No. but one, I havekept the subject alive” (Lett.P 6: 219).29 Industrial health was, too, an important issue toDickens:Fierce even beyond [his] attacks on slums and the neglect of public health, however,was the campaign Household Words carried on against factory accidents. Since 1844there had been a law that dangerous machines must be fenced in, but it had been verylargely ignored. “Ground in the Mill” detailed dozens of hideous deaths andmutilations: boys caught in a piece of belting and smashed a hundred and twenty timesa minute against the ceiling, men wedged in a shaft getting battered to pulp, theirlungs broken, their heads scalped, their skulls smashed. There were two thousand ofthese victims killed or mutilated by machinery in a half-year (Johnson 2: 716).30Dickens’s novels had a great impact on public awareness about sanitation and publichealth, but it was often the provocation of a single case or specific incident that encouragedDickens to action.31 His novels, too, are given piquancy by singling out individual bodies, bygiving particularity to the body as we all know it—our own. Bodies en masse were not assignificant to Dickens unless the one example, the little J0, could be brought forth, his skinstepped into and the threats against his body felt.32ivThere were, of course, in the Victorian period, many visible reminders of death and itspossible causes. Indeed, when graveyards in London began literally to overflow, the dead22body often became a threat to the living. Both the sanitary disposal of dead bodies and theillegal disinterment of the same by avaricious resurrectionists were difficulties during thecentury. Reports were written on the issue,33 and Dickens, like many others, was keenlyinterested in the debate surrounding these problems.34 Together with other works on thesubject he possessed a copy of the surgeon G. A. Walker’s Lectures on the Actual Conditionof the Metropolitan Grave-yards, 1846-47, and in 1850 he thanked Henry Austin for a copy ofthe Report on a General Scheme for Extramural Sepulchre35 prepared by the general board ofHealth “which is extraordinarily interesting. I began to read it last night, in bed—anddreamed of putefraction (sic) generally” (Lett.P 6: 47). The overcrowding of burial groundswas a much noticed phenomenon when Dickens introduced it into Bleak House; articles inHousehold Words reflect public concern and propose resolutions to the situation. In “Heathenand Christian Burial” (HW 1 [18501: 43-48), for example, alternative methods of burial suchas embalming, cremation, extramural burial, and even the “curious expedients of savage life,”such as “exposing the bodies of the dead to be devoured by dogs, and beasts and birds ofprey” (46) are discussed because, the writer comments, “in no age and in no country havethe dead been disposed of so prejudicially to the living as in Great Britain” (43). The satirical“Address from an Undertaker to the Trade (Strictly Private and Confidential)” (HW 1 [18501:301-04) opens “I address you, gentlemen, as an humble individual who is much concernedabout the body” (301), punning on the dual meaning—”living anatomy” and “dead body”—of the word body, a pun Dickens similarly and repeatedly puts into the mouth of Mr. Mantaliniin Nicholas Nickleby. The undertaker defends his profession by attacking science as theenemy:[Science] has explained how grave-water soaks into adjoining wells, and has shockedand disgusted people by showing them that they are drinking their dead neighbours. Ithas taught parties resident in large cities that the very air they live in reeks withhuman remains, which steam up from graves; and which, of course, they arecontinually breathing (302).23If people really believe that the dead have gone to a better place, the speaker continues, they“would see that a spirit could care no more about the corpse it had quitted, than a man whohad lost his leg, would for the amputated limb” (303). We know that Silas Wegg at leastcared considerably for his missing limb after it was cut off and was prepared to go to somelengths to “collect” himself, but others in the nineteenth century also held bodily intactnessto be of crucial importance on religious grounds.The idea of bodily resurrection was a common Christian belief for the Victorians andbecame during the century the subject of heated and extensive debate in conjunction with theissues of dissection and cremation which respectively