Sensational Contagion: Sin, Disease and Religious Fervour in Wilkie Collins’s Armadale (1866) and Rhoda Broughton’s Not Wisely, but Too Well (1867)
This article explores the intersections and conceptual links between sin, disease and religious fervour in the critical discourse surrounding sensation fiction in the 1860s and 1870s as well as two representatives of genre, Wilkie Collins’s Armadale (1866) and Rhoda Broughton’s Not Wisely, but Too Well (1867). It aims to show that although the two novels under consideration replicate the discourse of disease and contagion that pervaded the mid-nineteenth-century sensation
debate, they do so to a different end. This paper will argue that instead of moralising, their use of the rhetoric of disease and contagion allowed the authors of these works to challenge and negotiate notions of what constituted sinful behaviour and, at the same time, pass criticism on excessive religiosity. Moreover, it will demonstrate that the two novels’ rhetorical construction of religious fervour as a disease is well-grounded in the medical literature of the time, which considered religious enthusiasm an important exciting cause of a range of mental diseases.
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