Declamation and dismemberment: rhetoric, the body, and disarticulation in four Victorian horror novels

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Mark Elliott Brumley (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Anne Wallace

Abstract: The fundamental question this dissertation seeks to answer is how late-Victorian horror fiction produced fear for its contemporary audiences. This study argues that the answer to this question lies in the areas of rhetoric—more specifically, oratory—and the body. This may seem unremarkable, but the notion of a rhetorical body was problematic for Victorians due to suspicion of eloquence and anxiety over the instability of bodies. This ambiguity is expressed through recurring images in horror fiction of the destruction of the monstrous body—typically through cutting—in relation to rhetorical performance and display. This study appropriates a medical term to refer to this phenomenon, disarticulation, which means amputation. Disarticulation, then, becomes a form of control of the transgressing body. It is expressed in society and literature in three forms, either as allusions or direct representations: public execution, including torture and dismemberment; anatomical dissection and its suggestion of vivisection; and aestheticization, which refashions death as life. Proponents of these practices claimed that they produced social order, scientific knowledge, and art. In the larger culture, however, they produced horror. But disarticulation is just one explanation for the fear produced by late Victorian horror fiction. This study also speculates that dread is produced by epideictic, which seems peculiarly present alongside other Classically-inspired rhetorical performances and displays in the five primary texts selected for examination: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; Dracula by Bram Stoker; The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells; The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson; and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2015
Anatomy, Dismemberment, Epideictic, Horror, Rhetoric, Victorian
Horror tales, English $y 19th century $x History and criticism
English fiction $y 19th century $x History and criticism
Literature and society $z Great Britain $x History $y 19th century
Monsters in literature
Horror in literature
Narration (Rhetoric) $x History $y 19th century
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, $d 1797-1851. $t Frankenstein $x Criticism and interpretation
Stoker, Bram, $d 1847-1912. $t Dracula $x Criticism and interpretation
Wells, H. G. $q (Herbert George), $d 1866-1946. $t Island of Doctor Moreau $x Criticism and interpretation
Stevenson, Robert Louis, $d 1850-1894. $t Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde $x Criticism and interpretation
Wilde, Oscar, $d 1854-1900. $t Picture of Dorian Gray $x Criticism and interpretation

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