Violent Women and Sensation Fiction: Crime, Medicine and Victorian Popular Culture

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Southern Queensland]On: 06 October 2014, At: 15:15Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

    Women's WritingPublication details, including instructions for authorsand subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rwow20

    Violent Women and SensationFiction: Crime, Medicine andVictorian Popular CultureKate Watson aa Cardiff University ,Published online: 26 Jun 2009.

    To cite this article: Kate Watson (2009) Violent Women and Sensation Fiction:Crime, Medicine and Victorian Popular Culture, Women's Writing, 16:1, 170-172, DOI:10.1080/09699080902854495

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09699080902854495

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  • BOOK REVIEW

    Violent Women and Sensation Fiction: Crime,Medicine and Victorian Popular CultureANDREW MANGHAMHampshire, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007247 pp., ISBN 978-0-230-54521-2, 50

    Andrew Manghams innovative text interrogates the trope of femaleincarceration in the sensation novels of the 1860s. Moving beyond SandraM. Gilbert and Susan Gubars The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer andthe Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (1979) and Winifred Hughess TheManiac in the Cellar: Sensation Novels of the 1860s (1980), Mangham turns hisattention to the cultural and disciplinary intersections surrounding representa-tions of the feminine in the period. As he observes, by exploring the linksbetween a number of Victorian disciplines, one learns a great deal about eachone of those fields and the larger culture into which it was embedded (3).Violent Women and Sensation Fiction: Crime, Medicine and Victorian Popular Culturefocuses on the sensation fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Ellen (Mrs Henry)Wood, and Wilkie Collins. This is analysed in the context of historical,journalistic, scientific, medical, and legal disciplines. Mangham contendsthat academic interest in science in fiction in the nineteenth century hasconcentrated on canonical authors such as Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, andCharlotte Bronte, leaving vital connections between non-fictional materialand popular fiction largely unexplored (3). This, he suggests, creates anunbalanced and elitist picture as the popular literature had the greater andmore socially mixed audience. As Mangham himself states, Braddon, Wood,and Collins have been chosen [ . . .] because they were the best-selling writersof their period (3).

    The opening chapter, Explosive Materials: Legal, Medical, and Journal-istic Profiles of the Violent Woman considers the connections betweennineteenth-century criminal trials of real women and emerging medicaltheories of psychosomatic female pathology (3). The Body in the Kitchenfeatures the trial for murder of Maria and Fredrick Manning (1849) and YoungWomen and Adolescents: The Mad Fury of that Lovely Being includes the1863 story The White Maniac: A Doctors Tale (published in 1912), writtenby the little-known Australian crime writer, Mary Fortune or Waif Wander.

    Womens Writing Vol. 16, No. 1 May 2009, pp. 170172ISSN 0969-9082 print/ISSN 1747-5848 online

    http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/09699080902854495

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  • Mangham then convincingly demonstrates parallels between this material andThe Woman in White, Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, Treatise on Insanity and theAnnual Register. He then considers the mother figure in Maternal Maniac andMorbid Influence, showing how the sentimental babe-in-arms image yieldsto one of disharmony and misery (24). The chapter culminates in Female OldAge: Sick Fancies, where the aged woman worryingly represents a site ofnegotiation between images of development and decay (43).

    Chapter Two, The Terrible Chemistry of Nature: The Road Murder andPopular Fiction, looks at Mary Elizabeth Braddons Aurora Floyd (1863), MrsHenry Woods St. Martins Eve (1866), and Wilkie Collinss The Moonstone(1868) and their relationship to the notorious 1860 Road Murder, in which fouryear-old Francis Kent was murdered, allegedly by his half sister, ConstanceKent. Mangham argues that in the contemporary reportage of the case [t]hecrime, in fact, became a stage on which competing ideas as to the nature ofwomen, the home, and society at large were enacted and discussed (50), andconsiders how Braddon, Henry Wood and Collins respectively appropriatedaspects of the Road Murder.

    The third chapter, Frail Erections: Exploiting Violent Women in theWork of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, opens with a discussion of Lady AudleysSecret (1862) with reference to its underlying sexual tensions and nuances.Unusually, Mangham focuses his argument on the minor character of LukeMarks rather than the central figure of Robert Audley. Mangham makesinnovative connections between Lady in Audley in Lady Audleys Secret,Menamenee in Braddons poem Under the Sycamores and Valerie deCevennes from The Trail of the Serpent (1861), an early Braddon novel which hasnot received much critical attention. The discussion then widens into an analysisof motherly love*or un-love*and the representation of the mother-figure inJohn Marchmonts Legacy (1863), Aurora Floyd and Eleanors Victory (1863) and thenconcludes, appropriately in chronological terms with Uncultivated Waste:Post-Menopausal Women.

    Chapter Four: Nest-Building Apes: Female Follies and BourgeoisCulture in the Novels of Mrs Henry Wood discusses East Lynne (1862),Danesbury House (1860) and Mrs Halliburtons Troubles (1862) in relation to themothers influence. This is then expanded into The Matrimonial Lottery:Choosing a Good Wife, which focuses on masculine expectations of marriagein Lady Adelaides Oath (1867), before moving on to Evil Heritages:Superstition and Morbid Heredity which is concerned with the anxietiesabout inheritance as represented in The Shadow of Ashlydyat (1864). The chapterconcludes with an exploration of the role of emotion in sensation fiction inVerners Pride (1863), entitled The control and display of passion.

    The final chapter, Hidden Shadows: Dangerous Women and ObscureDiseases in the Novels of Wilkie Collins discusses The Woman in White

    B O O K R E V I E W 1 7 1

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  • (1860), No Name (1862), and Armadale (1866) in relation to psychology andpsychopathology. Overall, this well-written text offers an exciting newperspective on sensation fiction and the comprehensive notes and bibliographyoffer a resource in themselves to the researcher in this field.

    Kate WatsonCardiff University

    # 2009 Kate Watson

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