The “Heart” and “Science” of Wilkie Collins and his Contemporaries
Barts Pathology Museum, London
24th September 2016
Keynote: Dr. Tara MacDonald (University of Idaho)
‘“Why can’t I look into your heart, and see what secrets it is keeping from me?”’
The protagonist of Wilkie Collins’s Heart and Science (1883), surgeon Ovid de Vere, laments the difficulty in deciphering hidden emotions and secrets. Yet, the language suggests his medical background, striking a note with the novel’s supposedly anti-vivisection message and highlighting contemporary debates into the nature of experimental medicine, observation and epistemology. What is the best way of uncovering secrets, and what part does knowledge of the body play in this? Can medical training benefit from a thorough understanding of emotion? And does gender play a part in this? Issues of ‘heart’ and ‘science’ reverberate across Collins’s work, from the Major’s collection of women’s hair in The Law and the Lady (1875) to Ezra Jenning’s solution to the crime of The Moonstone (1868). This conference takes as its focus the proliferation of “heart” and “science” throughout Collins’s work.
The conference welcomes proposals on, but not limited to, the following topics:
- Wilkie Collins’s Heart and Science (1883) and/or any of Collins’s work
- The Body: As a scientific subject, as a site of emotion, bodily representations, and the body in forensics, news reportage and the home.
- The Victorian origin of disciplines: Collins as an interdisciplinary figure, the divide (or not) of “heart” and “science”, the definition of sensation in literature and/or science.
- Medicine and anatomical science: vivisection, taxidermy, anatomical atlases and the nineteenth-century doctor and/or scientist.
- Psychology and psychiatry: the physicality of mental illness, hysteria, the asylum, treatment and therapeutics.
- Gender: the gendered body, representations of gender, the gendered connotations of “heart” and/or “science”.
- Sensation: As genre, as sense or emotion, as subjective.
- Detection: forensics, interrogation, the body as clue, the science of detection, and crimes of the heart.
- Relationships: Romantic, familial, or otherwise.
- Neo-Victorian Approaches to “Heart” and “Science”
- Work by other contemporary sensation writers
Submissions are not limited to papers on Wilkie Collins’s Heart and Science (1883) but to “heart” and “science” at work in the full range of Collins’s fiction. The WCJ and VPFA are also interested in related authors and ‘sensation fiction’ more broadly, hence papers on authors such as Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Charles Reade, Charles Dickens, Ellen Wood, Florence Marryat and other sensation writers will also be considered. Interdisciplinary perspectives are welcome.