Louise T Benson James

Dr Louise T Benson James


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Honorary Research Associate, Department of English, University of Bristol.

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Ghent University.
Project title: Intracorporeal Narratives: Reading Internal Biology in Women’s Literature, 1880s-1930s.

This project examines British and American women’s fiction of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for its depictions of internal anatomy: organs and systems, circulatory, nervous, reproductive, and digestive, offering new analysis of how women’s writing communicates bodily experiences and depicts the ‘intracorporeal’, narrative journeys through concealed and invisible organs. I will explore how changing conceptualisations of the body interact with gendered notions of pathology and disorder. Comparing fictional texts to medical writing and advertising of the same era, I will track the development of and interaction between the medical understanding of the internal body, communication in the public realm, and exploration in literature.

My PhD (awarded March 2020) explored links between medicine and women’s fiction, examining the materiality of the body in women’s writing and medical texts published between 1850 and the early 2000s. This research was interested in disorder as presented as part of women’s – and men’s – everyday experience: the familiar, mundane ways in which the body goes out of control. Chapters discuss medical theories and symptoms put forward by diagnosticians of hysteria: involuntary movements, ghostly hallucinations, pathological blushing, stammering, mydriasis, and unruly organs. My thesis took the form of case studies on female authors over this period; Charlotte Brontë, Rhoda Broughton, Lucas Malet, Djuna Barnes, and a final chapter looking at a contemporary depiction of hysteria and the Gothic in the fiction of Helen Oyeyemi. It aimed to trouble accepted truths and unified stories of the female body in both fiction and medical discourse: the prevalence of narratives of women’s bodies as unstable and subject to uncontrollable emotional fluctuations. 


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