Expanding the Scope of Victorian Rape Studies
North American Victorian Studies Association 2023 Conference: Revision, Return, Reform
Session sponsored by the Gender & Sexuality Caucus
The majority of research on 19th-century literary representations of sexual violence variously restricts the field by 1) explicitly or implicitly treating rape as an exceptional crime; 2) limiting analyses to what Erin Spampinato has termed “adjudicative reading,” or legalistic approaches that evaluate rape stories as if they were real-life court cases; and 3) attending only to narratives about cisgender men’s violations of white cisgender women, especially within the middle-class home, to the exclusion of nonheterosexual, queer, and colonial contexts. This panel invites papers that continue the urgent work of expanding Victorian rape studies, which encompasses not only rape plots, but also narratives, scenes, or tropes of sexual and gender-based harassment, assault, domestic battery, and psychological abuse. The organizers seek papers that explore neglected topics, such as “marginal” rape (instances that take place outside white, cisgender, heterosexual, married, middle-class contexts), as well as novel methods. For example, the organizers welcome new critical perspectives on the ways in which sexual violence underpins 19th-century generic, pedagogical, and epistemological structures, rape culture’s insidious mechanisms of effacement and distortion (e.g. the circulation of rape myths, such as “she was asking for it,” rape jokes, and other modes of silencing and punishing survivors), or the myriad ways in which these structures constrain our understanding of rape, past and present.