Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



“Body Language: Pain in Victorian Literature” argues that Victorian authors use the readable sign system of the body and pain to emphasize their characters’ physical features to the reader. As characters physically manifest emotions or experience violence, their appearances change, and these differences depend on physical descriptions. Marks on the body give it texture and depth, creating a layering that encourages the reader to envision and remember it. Character interactions, particularly when they read others’ somatic signs and experience or cause brutality, further flesh out characters, emphasizing their physical presences in the reader’s mind. The somatic sign system depends upon both alterations to the body and character interchanges in which other characters view a somatic sign. Yet this sign system is often disrupted; some forms of physical change confuse or deflect legibility. Extensive facial mutilation may prevent the physical manifestation of emotion. Bruises caused by an attack reveal more about the attacker’s state of mind than the victim. Even strongly manifested emotions that cause a rapid decline in health, indicate as much about the character’s relationships with others as his or her own personal feelings. I examine moments in which characters experience or show marks of previously experienced pain because I find that pain, which is difficult to express verbally because it has no referential content, is readily conveyed by descriptions of how it affects the body.



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Committee Chair

Michie, Elsie