The Social Life of Fluids
Blood, Milk, and Water in the Victorian Novel
British Victorians were obsessed with fluids—with their scarcity and with their omnipresence. By the mid-nineteenth century, hundreds of thousands of citizens regularly petitioned the government to provide running water and adequate sewerage, while scientists and journalists fretted over the circulation of bodily fluids. In The Social Life of Fluids Jules Law traces the fantasies of power and anxieties of identity precipitated by these developments as they found their way into the plotting and rhetoric of the Victorian novel.
Analyzing the expression of scientific understanding and the technological manipulation of fluids—blood, breast milk, and water—in six Victorian novels (by Charles Dickens, George Eliot, George Moore, and Bram Stoker), Law traces the growing anxiety about fluids in Victorian culture from the beginning of the sanitarian movement in the 1830s through the 1890s. Fluids, he finds, came to be regarded as the most alienable aspect of an otherwise inalienable human body, and, paradoxically, as the least rational element of an increasingly rationalized environment. Drawing on literary and feminist theory, social history, and the history of science and medicine, Law shows how fluids came to be represented as prosthetic extensions of identity, exposing them to contested claims of kinship and community and linking them inextricably to public spaces and public debates.