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Monstrosities

Bodies and British Romanticism

2003
Author:

Paul Youngquist

Monstrosities

A surprising evaluation of the role of the physical body in the construction of British identity

Paul Youngquist reveals the cultural politics of embodiment in Britain during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Drawing on the histories of medicine, economics, liberalism, and nationalism, this remarkable book should be of interest to anyone concerned with the historical and cultural fate of bodies in liberal society—and with the importance of deviance in determining that fate.

Monstrosities speaks to the radical importance of bodies in culture and to the important role that culture plays in completing them.

Alan Bewell, author of Romanticism and Colonial Disease

Eighteenth-century medicine used the word “monstrosities” to describe physically deformed bodies—those irreducible to the “proper body” in their singular, sometimes startling difference. Considering British society in confrontation with such monstrosities, Paul Youngquist reveals the cultural politics of embodiment in Britain during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Drawing on the histories of medicine, economics, liberalism, and nationalism, his work shows that bodies are not simply born but rather built by cultural practices directed toward particular social ends.

Among the phenomena Youngquist treats are the science of comparative anatomy, the annual festivity of Bartholomew Fair, the social status of black Britons, opium habitués, pregnant women, and wounded war veterans. The authors he engages include John Locke, William Blake, Olaudah Equiano, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas De Quincey, Mary Wollstonecraft, Lord Byron, and Mary Shelley. Uniquely interdisciplinary, formidably researched, and replete with curious illustrations, this remarkable book should be of interest to anyone concerned with the historical and cultural fate of bodies in liberal society—and with the importance of deviance in determining that fate.

Monstrosities

Paul Youngquist is associate professor of English at Penn State University. He is the author of Madness and Blake’s Myth (1990).

Monstrosities

Monstrosities speaks to the radical importance of bodies in culture and to the important role that culture plays in completing them.

Alan Bewell, author of Romanticism and Colonial Disease

Youngquist’s book belongs on the shelf next to Judith Butler’s Bodies that Matter, Richard Dyer’s White, and Elizabeth Grosz’s Volatile Bodies—all books that deconstruct and problematize cultural and political notions of normality as applied to bodies. Monstrosities is essential reading for anyone interested in this branch of cultural studies or simply looking to broaden their understanding of the British Romantic period.

College Literature

This captivating material history of the human body arranges the life-stories of deformed, mutilated, extraordinary men and women around a compelling thesis of the ‘proper body.’

British Association for Romantic Studies

Youngquist’s study crystallises and historicises the broad spectrum of identity and body theory.

British Association for Romantic Studies

Youngquist’s imagination and his leaps of ideas are breathtaking.

Ralph: The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy, and the Humanities

Monstrosities

CONTENTS

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Part I. Incorporations

1. Building Bodies
2. Troubling Measures
3. Possessing Beauty

Part II. Habituations

4. Bad Habits
5. Crazy Body

Part III. Appropriations

6. Mother Flesh
7. Imperial Legs

Notes
Works Cited

Index