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The Science of Starving in Victorian Literature, Medicine, and Political Economy$
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Andrew Mangham

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780198850038

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198850038.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 24 January 2022

Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell


(p.107) 3 Elizabeth Gaskell
The Science of Starving in Victorian Literature, Medicine, and Political Economy

Andrew Mangham

Oxford University Press

This chapter focuses on Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton (1848), North and South (1854–5), and Sylvia’s Lovers (1863). These works confirm Kingsley’s suspicion that a material view of starvation—and poverty more generally—offers a reasonable and reasoning interpretation of the Condition-of-England question. Starvation, or ‘clemming’, as it was known among the industrial working classes, refuses to be integrated, in Gaskell’s fictional world, into a catch-all economic or demographic theory. Instead, it is a phenomenon that paradoxically demands confrontation while evading perception through the anatomies of the workers and their surroundings. In line with the interlinking findings of biological scientists and Unitarian thinkers, Gaskell broaches the intricate questions of reform by recasting them as flesh-and-blood issues experienced through the eyes of her heroines; her novels thus ask for the sort of careful consideration advocated by science, whereby the strengths and weaknesses of subjective interpretation are tested and interpreted through the material.

Keywords:   Clemming, Manchester, industry, women’s literature, unitarianism

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