Embodying the Tactile in Victorian Literature: Touching Bodies/Bodies Touching explores the importance of sensory studies in mid to late-Victorian literature. Ann Gagné reconciles the social and cultural issues surrounding embodiment, particularly gendered embodiment, through the lens of tactility and how touch can function as embodied residue. The main focus on tactility highlights bodily interactions through narrative description and positions lived experience as narrated and witnessed on the body through touch. By exploring four distinct types of tactility—reciprocal touch, architectural touch, self-touch, and telepathic touch—found in Victorian literature, Gagné reveals a larger social and cultural focus on ethics, care, the built environment, and pedagogy. Through analyses of more canonical texts such as Goblin Market alongside lesser known works by canonical authors such as Wilkie Collins’s “Mrs. Zant and the Ghost,” Gagné demonstrates how these same sensory considerations continue to be important today.
Ann Gagné is educational developer at the University of Toronto Mississauga.
Chapter 1: Reciprocal Touch as Touching Me: Touching You: Goblin Market and “The Leper”
Chapter 2: Touch that Reinforces Architecture: Embodying Tactile Performance: The Ethics of the Dust and “Alan’s Wife”
Chapter 3: Homosocial, Homosexual, and Touching the Self: Teleny and “Gone Under”
Chapter 4: Telepathic Touch in “The Withered Arm” and “Mrs. Zant and the Ghost”
Chapter 5: Manus Ex Machina: Lady Audley’s Secret and Tactile Residue
Ann Gagné’s innovative cultural history of touch in the nineteenth century traces the ways in which tactility gets imagined and politicized through literary form. Drawing together phenomenology, disability studies, medical history, and literary studies, Gagné’s project historicizes touch as it constitutes identities through bodily contact that became increasingly surveilled and policed by Victorian public health. This situating of touch and its many incarnations within a set of ideological debates about its intercorporeal quality prompts Gagné’s urgent meditation on the ethics of tactility as a social and cultural experience tied to how we care for one another. Embodying the Tactile in Victorian Literature: Touching Bodies/Bodies Touching offers accessible, interdisciplinary readings of tactility that reconceptualize the seemingly quotidian experience of touch in terms of a nuanced, relational theory of the tactile.
Applying conceptual frameworks that encompass interpersonal relationships, social mores, medical knowledge, and legal regulations to a diverse range of primary texts, this book contributes to an emerging interdisciplinary discourse on embodiment. Gagné’s timely study offers scholars a model to explore the experience and perception of touch in Victorian literature. The Contagious Disease Acts of the 1860s provide an historical anchor for her analysis, along with phenomenological and feminist theories of touch.