Jessica Straley, "Love and Vivisection: Wilkie Collins's Experiment in Heart and Science"(pp. 348––373)
This essay examines the paradox of Wilkie Collins's antivivisection sensation novel, Heart and Science (1883). in the plot of the cruel vivisector Dr. Benjulia and the helpless young woman who almost becomes his latest experiment, the novel draws from a familiar bounty of antivivisectionist propaganda, but, this essay argues, the novel also reveals Collins's thinking about his own literary genre and the unfavorable comparison many critics were making between vivisection and sensation fiction: medical experiments on live animals often electrified their subjects, and sensation novels likewise shocked their readers. More than simply a metaphor, this connection between scientific and literary practices pointed to a late-Victorian anxiety about physiological sensation and moral reasoning. The focus on the body, critics of both practices maintained, bypassed the authority of the soul and turned human agents into passive receptors incapable of the higher functions of rationality and ethics. In its preface, Heart and Science disavows any relation between its narration and the medical dissection it deplores, and much of the novel progresses without the sensation genre's characteristic shocks. But Collins's text also seeks to recover and to redeem physiology as the basis for human emotion and ethics and, in so doing, to redefine sensation fiction as an aid, rather than an inhibitor, to moral agency.
- ©© 2010 by The Regents of the University of California