'A slashing review is a thing that they like’: vivisection and Victorian literary criticism

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Abstract

In nineteenth-century Britain, the antivivisection movement attracted a striking number of authors, poets, and playwrights, who attended meetings, signed petitions, contributed funds, and lent their pens to the cause. However, the language of vivisection extended far beyond literature with a purpose, seeping into the heart of late-Victorian literary debates. This article explores analogies of writing as vivisection in literary-critical discourse. Surveying the newspapers and periodicals of the period demonstrates that such terminology was remarkably sprawling in terms of the genres and authors it was applied to and the meanings it conveyed. Essayists and reviewers also used metaphors relating to experimental physiology’s modus operandi to shape and articulate key methodological and ideological principles that were emerging in late-Victorian literary-critical theory and practice. These included discussions of how to analyse living authors and contemporary works, conceptualizations of whether critical operations should produce social benefits, and considerations of the aesthetic and technical opportunities that literary or critical vivisection offered or, indeed, prevented.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Victorian Culture
Volume29
Issue number1
Early online date12 Jun 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2024

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