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The Representation of Bodily Pain in Late
                        Nineteenth–Century English Culture$
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Lucy Bending

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780198187172

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198187172.001.0001

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Pain and Language

Pain and Language

(p.82) 3 Pain and Language
The Representation of Bodily Pain in Late Nineteenth–Century English Culture

Lucy Bending

Oxford University Press

It has become a commonplace that pain defies language and, as such, that it is unique as a sensation that cannot be described or shared: sufferers suffer alone, unable to translate their physical pains into words. This chapter looks into the arguments of those who promote this line of reasoning, most notably Virginia Woolf and Elaine Scarry, and refutes their claims both theoretically and by arguing from the rhetorical strategies of Victorian writers. The flaw in such arguments is that their proponents refuse to accept that pain can enter into language and be accommodated by its structures — whether descriptive or metaphorical — in the face of a paucity of directly expressive words for painful sensations. In response, the chapter schematizes the conventional attitudes towards physical pain, outside the realms of medicine and Christianity, that were open to the Victorian sufferer and writer.

Keywords:   Virginia Woolf, Elaine Scarry, pain language, social conventions, physical pain, Victorian literature

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