Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Matthew Rowlinson


Tactility becomes a marked preoccupation in mid-Victorian literature. The description of how characters touch one another and negotiate their surroundings through tactility reinforces the ethics of intersubjectivity in Victorian England. I argue that touch becomes representative of embodied experience in Victorian literature. As well, touch goes beyond the explicit moral taxonomies found in etiquette books to provide implicit guiding principles for the negotiation of both the public and the private. The Contagious Diseases Acts (CDAs) serve as a point of departure for an analysis of tactility in Victorian literature for the CDAs emphasized and reinforced the importance of legislating touch. I focus on four specific categories of touch which create or modify embodiment in Victorian literature.

Chapter one looks at reciprocal touch and the ethics of care as seen in “Goblin Market,” “Modern Love,” and “The Leper.” Chapter two argues that touch can create, reinforce, or destroy material confines and spatial architecture; especially in conjunction with performance, as seen in Ruskin’s “The Ethics of the Dust” and Bell and Robins’s Alan’s Wife. Chapter three situates self-touching in relation to textual representations of same-sex relationships as seen in the poetry of Michael Field and Edward Carpenter and Teleny. The fourth chapter analyzes the depiction of telepathic touch, a touch where the spiritual becomes material again. This ghostly touch appears in Hardy’s “The Withered Arm” and Wilkie Collins’s “Mrs. Zant and the Ghost.” In the fifth and final chapter I elucidate several types of touches in Lady Audley’s Secret, to in turn argue that there are many hands at work in the novel. Ultimately my dissertation reinforces the importance of tactility in mid to late-Victorian literature as a way to address embodiment within a society obsessed with methods of negotiation.