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Title page for ETD etd-05132018-171318

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Smeele, Wietske Maria
URN etd-05132018-171318
Title The Victorian Posthuman: Monstrous Bodies in Literature and Science
Degree PhD
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Jay Clayton Committee Co-Chair
Rachel Teukolsky Committee Co-Chair
Ole Molvig Committee Member
Vera Kutzinski Committee Member
  • magazine
  • amputation
  • prothetic
  • periodical
  • poem
  • comic
  • illustration
  • museum
  • dinosaur
  • evolution
  • posthuman
  • Victorian literature
  • satire
  • cholera
  • gene
  • genetics
  • heredity
  • novel
  • germ
  • monstrous
  • monster
  • factory
Date of Defense 2018-05-01
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation explores representations of monstrous bodies in Victorian literature, culture, and scientific discourse through a posthuman lens. I argue that Victorians were fascinated by bodies that violated the norms of humanism and that the response to these anomalous bodies produced ideas, institutions, and practices that constituted a Victorian posthuman. In periodical illustrations, museum exhibitions, and popular literature, Victorians harnessed the tools offered by developing science, medicine, and technology to imagine bodily assemblages as terrifying yet promising futures.

Although critical investigations of posthuman ontology have largely been confined to information-age contexts of the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries, I seek to separate posthumanism from techno-modernity. Victorian dinosaur reconstructions, advances in prosthetic limbs, human-animal compounds encountered in mid-Victorian medical museums, the human-machine complex in Britain’s textile factories, and microscopic life forms that transformed diseased individuals into alien posthuman beings, and the visions of Verne, Wells, and Stevenson all demonstrate the need to release the posthuman from its contemporary digital moorings and acknowledge that earlier ages were as fascinated with what the human was becoming as our own age. The period was rife with bodies and practices that violated the norms of humanism—bodies that had previously been deemed monstrous became promising case studies of innovative life through the developing sciences, medicine, and technologies of the nineteenth century.

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