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Wilkie Collins, Medicine and the Gothic

Throughout his career, Wilkie Collins made changes to the prototypical gothic scenario, reworking and adapting aristocratic villains, victimized maidens, and medieval castles in order to thrill his Victorian readership. Drawing upon contemporary anxieties introduced by advances in neuroscience and the development of criminology, Collins transformed Moorish castles into modern medical institutions and ghost-fearing heroines into nineteenth-century women who feared the surgeon’s knife. This volume uniquely explores the way in which Collin’s gothic revisions increasingly tackled such medical questions, using the terrain of scientific changes to capitalize on his readers’ fears.

224 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2009

Gothic Literary Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

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“This well-documented and elegantly written study fills an important gap both in Collins studies and in accounts of the Gothic. Laurence Talairach-Vielmas shows exactly how the conventions of the old Gothic thrive and survive in Collins: concentrating on women and servants, the analysis convincingly demonstrates how the literary structures of horror and popular superstition are continually juxtaposed with the ‘modernizing’ discourses of Victorian science about the body and mind to create a space of dissent from the determinist and misogynistic overtones of those discussions.”

Victor Sage, University of East Anglia

“Drawing on the works of alienist Henry Maudsley, Charles Darwin, and many others, Laurence Talairach-Vielmas decisively shows how Victorian medical science influenced Collins’s fiction, providing him with ample raw material for updating Gothic devices, motifs, and locales. . . . This throroughly researched volume collates medical ideas with literature to enrich our understanding of Collins’s Gothic.”

Kelly L. Bezio | Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

Table of Contents


Introduction: ‘A creepy sensation down the spine’

1        ‘Sensation is [his] Frankenstein’: Monomaniac Obsessions in Basil, ‘Mad Monkton’ and The Woman in White

2        The Substance and the Shadow: Invisibility and Immateriality in Armadale


3        ‘My grave is waiting for me there’: Physiological Prisons in The Moonstone


4        Transformation, Epilepsy and Late Victorian Anxieties in Poor Miss Finch


5        The Shadows of the Past: Digging Out Hidden Memory in The Haunted Hotel


6        Mad Scientists: Jezebel’s Daughter and  Heart and Science


7        The Quest for Knowledge in ‘I Say No’


8        Born to Kill: the Haunting Taint in The Legacy of Cain




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