Call for Papers

Call for papers: Victorian Contagion

Victorian Network is an open-access, MLA-indexed, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to publishing and promoting the best work across the broad field of Victorian Studies by postgraduate students and early career academics. We are delighted to announce that our fifteenth issue (2022) will be on the theme of “Victorian Contagion” and will be guest edited by Kari Nixon (Whitworth University).

While the devastating global impact of the COVID pandemic has thrust scientific and cultural discourses about contagious disease into the public eye, and vastly increased personal awareness of the precarity of human health in present and past lives, Victorian studies have long sustained intrigue into the discursive field of contagion. As a concept which governed nineteenth-century lifestyle habits about cleanliness and impressed the urgency of public health projects in poverty-stricken regions into public dialogue, the spread of illness dominated nineteenth-century existence. Recent works such as Chung-Jen Chen’s Victorian Contagion: Risk and Social Control in the Victorian Literary Imagination (2020) attempt to make sense of the ideology of infectious illness, and explore the Victorian formation of ‘interactions and correlations between medical science, literary creation, and cultural imagination’. Scholars continue to examine the cultural evolutions and events that have helped to historically tether infectious diseases to an invasive climate of fear and dread.

The nineteenth-century conceptualisation of contagion was by no means static, and witnessed seismic shifts in the acceptance of the culturally-widespread miasma theory – a scientifically endorsed belief that disease could be transmitted by foul-smelling air – to germ theory, and recognisable hypotheses about disease-causing microbes. In an era dominated by successive waves of severe disease, led by large-scale epidemics of cholera (Asiatic disease), tuberculosis (Consumption), and syphilis, nineteenth-century communities became well acquainted with the risks of day-to-day social interaction. Advancing from India in the early decades of the century, cholera became an ongoing blight to Victorian London and caused high numbers of deaths from 1831. Subsequent national outbreaks of influenza and typhoid fever prompted public enquiries into human sanitation, and in 1842, Edwin Chadwick first postulated the correlation between poverty, disease, and reduced life expectancy. Provoking dominating cultural anxieties, the rapidly expanding cityscapes, overflowing cesspits, and ineffective methods of removing human waste - which often involved contaminating the Thames River with noxious biological matter - bred tides of illness, and subsequent pandemics became epicentres for political debate and reform.

As views about the nature of contagion changed over the course of the century, ideas about health risks, community, and population also evolved, posing thought-provoking concerns about social mingling. In our current time, we are similarly invested in understanding the nature of contagion.  Like our Victorian ancestors, the spread of disease and its prevention pose a direct influence on our lifespans, and we face the probability of further coronaviruses in future years. Formidably infiltrating our social behaviours, freedom of movement, and attitudes to life, the theme of contagion unites academic researchers in a direct vein of thought with nineteenth-century communities who survived numerous pandemics.

“Victorian Contagion” aims to explore new literary and cultural narratives about infectious disease.

We invite submissions of approximately 7,000 words on any aspect of the theme. Possible topics include, but are by no means limited to:

  • The spread of illness and infectious disease
  • Miasma theory and smell
  • Moral contagion
  • The relationship between medical science and the cultural imagination
  • Changes to the communal space
  • Social inequality
  • Crime, disease, and surveillance
  • Panic and illness
  • Cleanliness and dirt
  • Victorian medical fiction
  • Infectious rhetoric and biopolitics
  • Neo Victorian engagements with infection

All submissions should conform to MHRA house style and the in-house submission guidelinesSubmissions should be received by 30 April 2022