In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Body

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • General Anatomy
  • Head and Face
  • Cognitive/Neural/Brain Studies
  • Visual
  • The Photographic Body
  • Hands
  • Other Body Parts
  • The Feminine Body
  • The Masculine Body
  • Sexuality and the Body
  • Art and the Body
  • Unhealthy Bodies
  • Industrialization and the Body
  • Sensation Fiction and the Body
  • Emotional Bodies
  • Melodrama and the Theatrical Body
  • Racialized Bodies
  • Bodies and Objects
  • Disabled Bodies
  • Adolescent and Aged Bodies
  • Critical Theory and the Body

Victorian Literature The Body
Peter J. Capuano
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0148


The 19th century is extremely important for the study of embodiment because it is the period in which the modern body, as we currently understand it, was most thoroughly explored. This was the era when modern medical models of the body were developed and disseminated, when modern political relations to the body were instantiated, and when modern identities in relation to class, race, and gender were inscribed. While questions about the distinctions between personhood and the body were studied by the ancients, 19th-century developments in technology, economics, medicine, and science rendered such categories newly important for Britons who were the first to experience a fully industrialized society. This entry is designed to outline the changing experiences of embodiment in the Victorian period and is therefore divided into the following sections: anatomy, gender, femininity, masculinity, health and sickness, industrialized and technologized bodies, physiology and reading, evolution and race, disability, adolescence, and old age.

General Overviews

General introductions to the emerging understanding of the Victorian body began to appear at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. This “turn to the body” was most definitely influenced by a renewed interest in historicism, materiality, and the mind. Taylor 2010 demonstrates how representations of the body the social and cultural world of the period more legible. Gilbert 2015 offers a brief but important account of how “body studies” more generally cohered around studies into gender and bio-politics. Zemka 2015 is a more thorough explication of how materialist scholarship of all kinds impacted studies of the Victorian body.

  • Gilbert, Pamela K. “The Body.” Victorian Network 6.1 (Summer 2015): 1–6.

    A brief sketch of how “body studies” was initiated by inquiries into gender and bio-politics, but how the field has grown through materialist concerns ranging from the ergonomic and the economic, evolution and industrialism, disease and health, medical and legal history, sexuality, and very recent “neuro-humanities.”

  • Taylor, Jenny Bourne. “Body and Mind.” In The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 1830–1914. Edited by Joanne Shattock, 184–204. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521882880.011

    A succinct account of how representations of the body rendered the dense social world of the Victorian period legible. Includes sections devoted to the visible codes of phrenology and physiognomy; the subtle internal processes linking nerves to the mind and the brain; the power of reflex and instinctive response, and the embodiment of memory.

  • Zemka, Sue. “The Body.” In The Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature. Edited by Dino Felluga, Pamela K. Gilbert, and Linda K. Hughes, 147–160. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2015.

    A longer appraisal of the ways in which materialist scholarship has impacted studies of the Victorian body. By analyzing topics such as industrial and political economics, evolution and neurology, disease and disability, and technology and race, this introduction shows how emotional, psychological, and even spiritual experience in the Victorian period was imagined—if not explained—in terms of physiological processes.

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