An Interesting Situation: Reproduction and the Un-Domestication of the Victorian Novel


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




The reproductive matrix—conception, pregnancy, birth, and lactation—is hidden in Victorian novels, but hidden imperfectly. Although depictions are infrequent and peripheral, they are also ubiquitous. This project examines the resulting oddity, arguing that the novel’s repression of reproduction operates differently, and for a different purpose, than its repression of sexuality. By juxtaposing the novel’s accounts of the reproductive matrix with those of contemporary obstetric texts, advice books, sex manuals, popular periodicals, contraceptive pamphlets, and women’s own letters and diaries, the project offers a rhetorical context for the reproductive matrix that undermines some popular and scholarly commonplaces about Victorian femininity, motherhood, and sexuality. The cultural distinction between the fallen woman and the respectable wife tends to collapse when reproduction is described. This suggests that scholars’ understanding of the novel’s social conservatism is oversimplified. This project offers a more nuanced understanding of reproduction’s cultural impact.