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Title: Gothic monster fiction and the 'novel-reading disease', 1860-1900
Author: Foulds, Alexandra Laura
ISNI:       0000 0004 7427 379X
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis scrutinises the complex ‘afterlife’ of sensation fiction in the wake of the 1860s and ‘70s, after the end of the period that critics have tended to view as the heyday of literary sensationalism. It identifies and explores the consistent framing of sensation fiction as a pathological ‘style of writing’ by middle-class critics in the periodical press, revealing how such responses were moulded by new and emerging medical research into the nervous system, the cellular structure of the body, and the role played by germs in the transmission of diseases. Envisioned as a disease characterised by its new immersive and affective reading process, sensation fiction was believed to be infecting its readers. It infiltrated their nervous systems, instigating a process of metamorphosis that gradually depleted their physical and mental integrity and reduced them to a weakened, ‘flabby’, ‘limp’ state. The physical boundaries of the body, however, were not the only limits that sensation fiction seemed to wilfully disregard. ‘[S]preading in all directions’, it contaminated other modes, other media, and other kinds of recreational entertainment, making them equally sensational and pathological. One of these modes was Gothic monster fiction at the end of the nineteenth century, which was repeatedly labelled ‘sensational’ and described as generating the same cardiovascular responses as works by Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Mrs Henry Wood. This infection of fin de siècle Gothic fiction by literary sensationalism can be gauged in the plots and monsters that those texts portray. Gothic monster narratives at the end of the nineteenth century are shaped by the concerns at the heart of middle-class commentators’ responses to sensation fiction, and by the medical lexicon employed to vocalise these anxieties. Monstrosity is linked to contagion and stimulation, as the monster seems to pollute all those with whom it comes into contact. It triggers a process of degeneration and debilitation akin to that associated with the reading of sensation fiction, producing a host of ‘shocked’, nervous, or hysterical characters. Encounters with the monster are linked to recreational reading or other kinds of behaviour that such reading became associated with, such as thrill-seeking, substance abuse, and illicit sexual desire. The result is a group of texts in which the monster embodies the same threat to boundaries, as well as individual, and, at times, national health that middle-class reviewers associated with literary sensationalism.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PR English literature