Dissecting the monster: mapping discourses of medicine, ethics, and monstrosity in the Victorian Penny Blood
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This research analyses a set of specimens of penny blood literature from the point of view of medical history, with the goal of providing an examination of the genre in relation to its historical context. In so doing, it contributes to a clearer understanding of the relationship between the working class and the medical community in the period after that controversial socio-political phenomenon that was the 1832 Anatomy Act. Further, it argues in favour of a re-evaluation of the penny blood genre as a tool for expanding our knowledge of Victorian literary, working-class, and medical history. The study considers four texts: Manuscripts from the Diary of a Physician (1844 and 1847), Varney the Vampyre; or: the Feast of Blood (1845-7) and The String of Pearls (1846-7) by James Malcolm Rymer, and The Mysteries of London (1844-5) by G.W.M. Reynolds. These narratives, produced over the same time-span after the Anatomy Act, display a recurrent interest in displaced and/or dismembered corpses and in medical figures occupying liminal ethical positions. Combining theoretical instruments from new historicism, discourse theory, and spatial theory, the cross-section analysis provides commentary on three key questions: firstly, how did penny bloods engage with issues of medicine and anatomy, promoting their circulation? How did they elaborate and circulate discourses related to power and anatomy? And finally, how did they use space to map out discourses of poverty and dissection?