In the opening pages of her excellent book, Plotting Disability in the Nineteenth-Century Novel, Clare Walker Gore states her goal to demonstrate the potential that disability holds for literary criticism: not just what novels have to offer scholars of disability, but also what attention to disability has to offer the literary critic. Walker Gore explores the work disabled characters perform to allow authors to experiment with the formal qualities of literary texts. She emphasizes that close attention to embodiment and characterization may help literary scholars interested in disability studies avoid the straightforward alignment of person and character. With this argument, Walker Gore makes an important intervention in Victorian studies, literary scholarship, and disability studies.

Walker Gore closely studies six Victorian authors in chapters that investigate different genres of literature. By examining disabled characters' relationship to plot in the work of these six very different Victorian novelists, Walker Gore demonstrates that attention to disability has the potential both to offer fresh readings of familiar, canonical work by Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, George Eliot, and Henry James, and to bring less well-known works by writers who have been critically marginalized, such as Dinah Mulock Craik and Charlotte M. Yonge, into prominent view. Perhaps regrettably, Plotting Disability also takes a somewhat limited definition of disability for "reasons of space and coherence" (13). While Walker Gore recognizes "that there is much work to be done on the depiction of intellectually disabled characters within the work of these writers," she considers "intellectual disability only when it is written on the body of the character" and predominantly examines characters "who are defined by their bodily difference from what the narrative constructs as a norm" (13-14). Mental illness and insanity are not considered in the book at all. Walker Gore advances the field of literary disability studies, but without furthering current efforts that make the definition of disability a more inclusive one.

One of many things Walker Gore does well is the way she approaches novels not as purely historical artifacts, but as aesthetic works that bring marginalized characters to the center of our collective focus. For example, Walker Gore reimagines Charles Dickens' depiction of disability in Chapter One, "A Possible Person?: Marking the Minor Character in Dickens." Here she analyzes the marginalized position of disabled characters in the overcrowded novels of Dickens. Walker Gore aims to move past former approaches to Dickens in disability studies—namely, the important early critique of Tiny Tim as a figure of pathos—by showing that Dickens created many other disabled minor characters before he wrote A Christmas Carol (25). Although Dickens is famous for being an anti-Malthusian champion of the dispossessed and stigmatized, Walker Gore demonstrates that physical disability is indivisible from minor status in his novels. Dickens trains his readers to understand physical distinctiveness and impairment as indicators of minor status but he uses this connection in subtle ways to highlight the cruelties of the narrative order. By writing minorness on to his characters' bodies as disability, Dickens draws attention to the inequities of his narrative structure and encourages us to invest attention in those characters who are ultimately marginalized by the novels' plotting. As Walker Gore convincingly shows, Dickens troubles his own narrative strategies through heroines such as Esther Summerson and Little Dorrit who become major characters through their very minorness–a self-understanding written upon their bodies as disability— by using disability to complicate readers' responses to the novel's plotlines and final arrangement of characters.

In the second chapter, Walker Gore explores the role of disability in Wilkie Collins' mystery novels, demonstrating that attention to disability disrupts schematic accounts of how plotting works in Collins's fiction. She argues that Collins uses disability as an unreliable sign, engaging the reader's preconceptions about a disabled character's relationship to plot so that he can perform sensational reversals at the novels' conclusions. Disability also enables Collins to put sensation to affective work, as he represents characters' disabilities in a way that elicits sympathy for their social and narrative exclusion. Some of the takeaways from this chapter are less convincing, as the chapter seems to rely on its final novel, Poor Miss Finch (1872), since it best exemplifies Walker Gore's point. In study of this novel, we learn that for Collins, disabled characters are situated quite differently in relation to plot, "illustrating the pivotal role of genre in shaping the representation of disabled characters, and how the treatment of disabled characters could signal generic affiliation" (15-16).

Chapter Three, "Disability and the Marriage Plot," makes some of the book's most impressive contributions to the fields of Victorian literature and disability studies by centering two female authors previously neglected in criticism. Walker Gore points out that Dinah Craik and Charlotte Yonge's novels prominently feature numerous permanently disabled characters, disabled narrators, and disabled minor characters. She shows that the plot structures of their novels enable an investment of power and attention in conventionally marginalized characters and experiences. These authors' treatment of the marriage plot allows disabled characters to take center stage and foregrounds disability as a central, rather than a marginal, human experience. Walker Gore demonstrates that "Both authors represent disability as a powerful state, which develops the disabled person's moral qualities, enabling them to exert an uplifting influence upon those around them, and fostering dependent relationships that are mutually beneficial….this becomes a way of validating experiences and qualities coded 'feminine'" (16). By examining critical reactions to Craik and Yonge's positioning of disabled characters, Walker Gore demonstrates that attitudes towards disability have been inextricably bound up with the reception of (women's) domestic fictions.

The fourth chapter charts the decline of the redemptive disability plot in the work of George Eliot and Henry James, arguing that disability provides a vantage point from which to narrate the coming apart of providential and realist plotting in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Walker Gore shows that in The Mill on the Floss (1860), Eliot represents disability as a monitory experience that develops crucial moral qualities of sympathy and selflessness in Philip Wakem. Eliot's refusal to allow him to act effectively disables the plot of the novel, condemning its heroine to tragedy. Then, in Daniel Deronda (1876), Eliot plots the novel in such a way that the consumptive Mordecai's decision to live through Daniel appears increasingly troubling. Walker Gore finally turns to James' The Portrait of a Lady, revealing that James offers a grim reworking of the same motifs. Tracing these authors' use of the redemptive disability plot, Walker Gore demonstrates that its slow decline occurred in tandem with late Victorian realists' increasing skepticism about the possibility of creating plots that were both morally satisfying and, in any meaningful sense, realistic. The chapter shows that the redemptive disability plot was one to which George Eliot and her successor Henry James continually returned and which they re-shaped in ways that reflected their diminishing readiness to offer narrative solutions to social and moral problems through the neat resolution of plot.

The book's coda gestures to the many additional studies that can be done to tease out the rich associations between disability and Victorianism in the modernist novel, as well as the importance of continuing this work. Walker Gore makes the important point that "The disabled characters of the Victorian novel have gone on working well into our own time" and argues that these characters "have something useful to offer us, not just as literary critics, but as readers who necessarily navigate our own culture's ideas about how bodies should work every day" (235). She argues that the complex narrative work done by disabled characters

Testifies to the shifting nature of cultural constructions of disability, to the mutability of our ideas about the body, the multiplicity of the purposes these ideas can be made to serve, and the possibility that always exists for re-invention. Stigmatised as their embodiment frequently is, ugly as they are sometimes declared, and excluded as they frequently are from the plot roles they long to fill, what these characters offer us, in the end, is hope: hope for further change, for new ways of imagining and organising bodies. (235-236)

Leaving us with this important claim, Walker Gore's book is a must read for scholars of disability studies and literary analysis, as it exemplifies what literary scholarship brings to our understandings of disability in history and art.

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