Language, Science and Popular Fiction in the Victorian Fin-de-Siècle: The Brutal Tongue, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Language, Science and Popular Fiction in the Victorian Fin-de-Siècle

The Brutal Tongue, 1st Edition

By Christine Ferguson


190 pages

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Paperback: 9781138262805
pub: 2016-10-19
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Hardback: 9780754650829
pub: 2006-01-09
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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

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; What does brutal language mean?; The voice of the people: Marie Corelli, the romance, and the language of the masses; Savage articulations in the romances of Grant Allen; The law and the larynx: R.L. Garner, H.G. Wells, and dehumanization of language; Standard English at stake in Stoker's Dracula; Epilogue; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Christine Ferguson is Lecturer in English at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

About the Series

The Nineteenth Century Series

The Nineteenth Century Series

The Nineteenth Century Series aims to develop and promote new approaches and fresh directions in scholarship and criticism on nineteenth-century literature and culture. The series encourages work which erodes the traditional boundary between Romantic and Victorian studies and welcomes interdisciplinary approaches to the literary, religious, scientific and visual cultures of the period. While British literature and culture are the core subject matter of monographs and collections in the series,  the editors encourage proposals which explore the wider, international contexts of nineteenth-century literature – transatlantic, European and global.  Print culture, including studies in the newspaper and periodical press, book history, life writing and gender studies are particular strengths of this established series as are high quality single author studies.  The series also embraces research in the field of digital humanities. The editors invite proposals from both younger and established scholars in all areas of nineteenth-century literary studies. 

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / Comparative Literature