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The value of a body : anatomy lessons in nineteenth-century British Literature and visual culture


In early nineteenth-century Britain, Parliament decided that it must legislate on the problem of grave-robbing and the dearth of dissection subjects for anatomy training. After several failed bills, Parliament passed the Anatomy Act in 1832, which allowed unclaimed bodies in workhouses, prisons, and hospitals to be sold to medical schools for dissection. In this dissertation, I argue that because of the history of dissection in Britain, this Act negatively affected the emotional consciousness of the population by coupling poverty with criminality. I display illustrations created for anatomy textbooks by Andrea Vesalius and William Hunter as well as illustrations of African women such as Sarah Baartman in order to prove that images such as these contributed to the public's awareness of the vulnerability of their own bodies. These images influenced the way people reacted to the passing of the Anatomy Act depending on the individual's socioeconomic class. Literature also contributed to the way people responded to the Act and I analyze Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to show how literature affected people's self-consciousness about their bodies. I posit that Shelley's novel impacted people's understanding of medicine and therefore affected their reactions to governmental regulations such as the Anatomy Act. I then showcase paintings, photographs, and a fictional story produced after the Anatomy Act to show how bodies became objectified and degraded during the Victorian Period. I also point out ways that the subjects resisted this appropriation through the use of their body parts. Finally, I investigate how themes and topics that were important in the nineteenth-century are recreated in present day. I provide a reading of the movie Alien : Resurrection to prove that an irresponsible use of science and government regulation still creates fear and anxiety in the public and that repatriation of bodies are a cathartic ending to both nineteenth and twentieth-century stories

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