In the middle of reading the newest addition to my project, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Aurora Floyd, I realized that the plot hinges partly on yet another disables person–Steeve the “Softy” Hargraves. Similarly, I’m going off on yet another argumentative tangent here, but I’ve got to try everything out and see what sticks. How many sensation novels I’ve read have a disabled character who is somehow central to the plot? I think all of them. Lady Audley is MAD (supposedly), Steeve Hargraves is lame and “soft” in the head, that character from The Moonstone whose name I don’t remember is lame, Anne Catherick from The Woman in White is kind of mad (maybe?), Lady Isabel gets disfigured in a train crash, and the list goes on. I could probably do an interesting reading of these characters’ representation on the stage as somehow akin to a Victorian freak show–especially given the research I’ve found about the performance of Lady Audley’s Secret in a madhouse, played by madwomen. Of course, the drawback to this plan I’m forming is that I’d have so much Foucault to read, but that’s not a bad thing.
What if disability is somehow central to sensation literature (both novels and plays)? Perhaps disability presents a problem to be solved, or a problem that somehow cannot be solved, in the same way that narrative necessitates conflict and resolution. Perhaps narrative structure itself works according to a certain logic of disability, where a problem or secret distorts an otherwise mundane world. And how does this narrative logic of disability signify onstage?
If I went in this direction, I’d pair Lady Audley’s Secret with The Woman in White, since that would just be a chapter about madness. Then maybe I’d pair Aurora Floyd with The Moonstone, since that could be about physical disability. I guess I’ll have to read more Charles Reade and Ouida to see if I can carry this through to those figures as well. This could certainly work for Sweeney Todd too.
Sigh. This would take a whole new critical apparatus, but if the connections are there, then I have to follow them. As one of my colleagues just said today, your argument = the thing that’s easiest to write about.