The Politics of the Neo-Victorian Freak Show – Helen Davies, Newman University, Birmingham
The life of Joseph Merrick has received considerable attention in neo-Victorian fiction and film, and has been the focus of several texts written for children and young adult readers. This paper explores the representation of Merrick in three books, all entitled The Elephant Man by Michael Howell and Peter Ford (1983); Frederick Drimmer (1985); and Tim Vicary (1989). The politics of narrative voice and the role of the medical profession in relation to Merrick are examined and complicated in relation to neo-Victorian bio-fiction. Vicary’s and Drimmer’s texts tend to privilege medical authority, and construct Merrick as a freakish ‘other’, highlighting the potential unethical and appropriative implications of biofiction. However, Howell and Ford offer a more critical view of the role of the doctor in Merrick’s life, and offer alternative possibilities for thinking about neo-Victorian freak shows as a way of allowing agency and self-definition for both historical and biofictional performers.
Helen Davies is Head of English and Creative Writing at Newman University, Birmingham. She is the author of Gender and Ventriloquism in Victorian and Neo-Victorian Fiction: Passionate Puppets (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) and Neo-Victorian Freakery: The Cultural Afterlife of the Victorian Freakshow (2015). She has published widely on the representation of gender, sexuality, and disability in Victorian and neo-Victorian fiction.
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For further information please contact Laura.Eastlake@edgehill.ac.uk