Language, Science and Popular Fiction in the Victorian Fin-de-Siècle The Brutal Tongue
Christine Ferguson's timely study is the first comprehensive examination of the importance of language in forming a crucial nexus among popular fiction, biology, and philology at the Victorian fin-de-siècle. Focusing on a variety of literary and non-literary texts, the book maps out the dialogue between the Victorian life and social sciences most involved in the study of language and the literary genre frequently indicted for causing linguistic corruption and debasement - popular fiction. Ferguson demonstrates how Darwinian biological, philological, and anthropological accounts of 'primitive' and animal language were co-opted into wider cultural debates about the apparent brutality of popular fiction, and shows how popular novelists such as Marie Corelli, Grant Allen, H.G. Wells, H. Rider Haggard, and Bram Stoker used their fantastic narratives to radically reformulate the relationships among language, thought, and progress that underwrote much of the contemporary prejudice against mass literary taste. In its alignment of scientific, cultural, and popular discourses of human language, Language, Science, and Popular Fiction in the Victorian Fin-de-Siècle stands as a corrective to assessments of best-selling fiction's intellectual, ideological, and aesthetic simplicity.
'. . . an interesting and engaging study that provocatively critiques and revises what have come to constitute the critical orthodoxies about the period. . .Ferguson’s scholarship on later nineteenth-century debates over language marks a striking intervention in the emerging analysis of the animal/human border, even as it provides a compelling context for the interpretations of "popular" writers like Corelli, Allen, Wells, Haggard, and Stoker.' Mary Jean Corbett, Professor of English, Miami University 'Ferguson's study insightfully examines the intersections between linguistics, evolutionary theory, and literature in late-Victorian culture. While linguists squared off between pro- and anti-Darwinian camps, with the latter insisting that language was the absolute "Rubicon" between "brutes" (sometimes including "savages") and humans, popular writers experimented with versions of animal-speak and human bestialization as sources of nightmarish terror and ways to probe the limits of human identity. Among other things, Ferguson demonstrates that popular fiction could be just as self-conscious about language as canonical literature.' Patrick Brantlinger, Rudy Professor of English and Victorian Studies, Indiana University ’Overall, this is an exellent monograph: well written, admirably reflexive, with insightful close readings that not only serve the argument of the book, but also illuminate our knowledge of the texts themselves... Language, Science and Popular Fiction in the Victorian Fin-de-Siècle is an important book, and one worth reading.’ English Literature in Transition ’Ferguson's work [... provides] students and scholars with detailed exposition of a wide range of scientific and linguistic primary sources... Highly documented, this study originally revises definitions of popular literature.’ The Oscholars ’... an excellent piece of scholarship and one that largely lives up to the ambition of its title.’ Victorian Studies