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The Adoration of the Child: Liturgy and Eugenics in British Literature, 1870-1914

Faulkner, Ashley Moore
Format
Thesis/Dissertation; Online
Author
Faulkner, Ashley Moore
Advisor
Feldman, Jessica
Arata, Stephen
Holsinger, Bruce
Abstract
As physical "fitness," modern pediatrics, the education doctorate, and eugenics were being invented toward the end of the nineteenth century, late Victorian writers asked, "what sorts of human beings might such expertise marginalize as 'defective' or 'abnormal'?" In "The Adoration of the Child: Liturgy and Eugenics in British Literature, 1970-1914," I look at two of the era's most famous critics, Oscar Wilde and Alice Meynell, and contextualize them beside their deepest influence, John Ruskin. Against the invention of normal development, such writers put forward instead a radically excessive model of the human, one that defied empiricist metrics. As these humanists critiqued the new scientific and pseudo-scientific models of normal growth, much of the ensuing debate, not surprisingly, focused on children. Because they saw themselves as combating the eugenicists' idol of normal maturation, late Victorian cultural critics deliberately vindicated immaturity, puerility, and childishness. Since they were writing for still distinctly Victorian audiences, they made creative use of popular period icons like the Christ-child-immature, omniscient, and literally adorable. These writers presented this supernatural Child as an epitome of the ways in which human development can never quite be reduced to sets of data. Ruskin, Wilde, and Meynell resisted scientific pedagogies which, shaped by the ideas of evolutionary biology and eugenics, sought to promote "fitness" and to reduce the "health" of the nation to sheer reproductive viability. In articulating (what we would call) non-heteronormative ideals, these late Victorian critics were pursuing (what we would call) queer theory. Note: Abstract extracted from PDF text
Language
English
Published
University of Virginia, Department of English, PHD, 2012
Published Date
2012-08-01
Degree
PHD
Rights
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Collection
Libra ETD Repository

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