Consumptive death in Victorian literature: 1830 - 1880.
Victorian medical men, writers, relatives of the dying and consumptive sufferers themselves seized on the narrative potential of representations of the disease in a variety of ways. I argue that both medical and lay writers subscribed to a common set of beliefs about the disease and that medical knowledge, moreover, shared a common narrative way of knowing and understanding it. I analyse aspects of general clinical expository texts, including accompanying illustrations, showing how a narrative knowledge of death and the tubercular body was elaborated. Furthermore, I show how documents used in the compilation of medical statistics on the cause of death were fundamentally narrative through their reliance on case narratives. It is demonstrated that Dickens uses a seldom noticed consumptive death and decline to offset his heroine's development in Bleak House, in ways similar to those developed in Jane Eyre. Similarly, it is shown that Mrs Gaskell's use of a consumptive alcoholic 'fallen woman' unsettles her account of her heroine in Mary Barton. George Eliot's 'Janet's Repentance' is analysed, showing how the psychological struggle between an orientation towards life or death is played out across both alcoholism and consumption. I also examine how consumption presents a narrative opportunity whereby plots involving setbacks in love are resolved through women's consumptive deaths in popular fiction by Rhoda Broughton,Ladv Georgiana Fullerton and others. Through an examination of the Journal of Emily Shore and accounts of other actual deaths, I illustrate how experiences and accounts of consumptive deaths were structured and rendered intelligible through reliance on beliefs encountered in both fiction and medicine. In conclusion, the thesis alerts readers to the presence of signifiers of consumption in Victorian texts, showing how various narrative strategies are integral to any understanding of representations of its dying victims
- Theses