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Title: Imagined human vivisections and the revelation of the soul : the classical tradition, John Donne, Jonathan Swift, and George Eliot
Author: McNamara, James Patrick John Radford
Awarding Body: Oxford University
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis explores a history of viewing vivisection as a means to revealing the nature and condition of the human soul and literary applications of these ideas. It argues that vivisection acquired this significance under certain conditions which were only intermittently present during the long period explored, from classical antiquity to the mid nineteenth century. The conditions are: a demonstrable cultural interest in vivisective theory and practice; a philosophical framework in which the soul is understood to be corporeal or to have a corporeal manifestation; and the emergence of a writer or writers sufficiently informed about vivisective theory and practice to be able to put those ideas into play in literature. I show that imagined human vivisection influenced literary treatments of human interiority (understood in different ways) in the work of John Donne, Jonathan Swift, and George Eliot. The perceived capacity of vivisection to reveal the soul changed historically, and was ultimately constrained by major changes in the epistemology of natural inquiry and body/soul theory. Eventually, the intellectual dominance of experimental physiology over natural historical inquiry from the late nineteenth century onwards changed the ideas studied here fundamentally. Through a study of the classical anatomical literature, and then three key moments in English intellectual and literary history between 1540 and 1860, I chart the development of vivisective theory as it relates to ideas about the soul, and examine its literary interpretations. I conclude that the body/soul problem was, in all these instances, a crucial aspect of responses to vivisection; that the presence and development of vivisective ideas in the works of key Western anatomists, philosophers, and writers offers an important new perspective on how human beings have thought about the soul across time; and that vivisective revelation of the soul was a powerful theme in the work of Donne, Swift, and Eliot.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available