It is impossible to ignore the role that disability often plays in Victorian literature. Mysterious maladies propel sensation fiction forward; sudden afflictions reroute marriage plots into visions of dependency and despondence; disfigurement accompanies a crisis of faith, inciting action or inviting recompense. Disability is transformative in Victorian literature, often for the worse, and narrative depends on disability to keep things moving.

Kylee-Anne Hingston's Articulating Bodies: The Narrative Form of Disability and Illness in Victorian Fiction complicates these expectations for what disability all-too-often signifies by considering how new formalist approaches to reading Victorian literature reveal its finer functions in narrative. "The difference," Hingston explains, is "between knowledge of the novel's physiology and its physicality," or in other words, between "knowing how the novel functions and knowing how it appears" (83-84). Much like judging a book solely by its cover, what we anticipate or assume based on knowledge of the period's fiction departs from the ways disabilities are actually articulated in nineteenth-century narratives by way of narration, characterization, and plot. Hingston is admittedly less interested in historicizing disability or specific disabilities, and in this respect, she joins Clare Walker Gore's recent manuscript Plotting Disability in the Victorian Novel by instead demonstrating how the structural principles of narrative draw readers into consideration of the bodies of others as well as their own by way of prompting difference or identification. Focusing on Victorian "body narratives," fiction that lent shape to cultural and historical conceptions of disability, Hingston demonstrates how narrative perspective always mediates any understanding of disability in these works, thus severing what might seem to be an otherwise direct link to stigmatization. By considering how shifts in perspective facilitate recognition and misrecognition in canonical works by Dickens, Collins, Braddon, Stevenson, and Doyle as well as lesser-known novels by Ellice Hopkins and Charlotte Yonge, Hingston ultimately traces a new method for seeing disability's subtler articulations in fiction of the period.

Hingston's attention to perspective comes by way of focalization, Gerard Genette's term for the delimitation of narrative information from a specific source. Attentive to disagreements in narrative theory on differences between perspective and focalization, Hingston consistently uses the latter to approach "how narrative limits information by narrowing access to it through an agent" while at the same time reasoning that "the use of focalization necessarily evokes a sense of a perceiving body" (6, emphasis original). The disagreement that has produced this distinction might lead us to consider the degree to which "narrative information" is a reduction of mediation as an embodied experience: narratives are always relayed by narrators, no matter how disembodied. As a result, narration always focalizes, and in doing so, narrators always "articulate bodies," in Hingston's useful phrase, composing and rearranging how bodies are represented and thus perceived. For this reason, Hingston is careful to consider when and how "non-character narrators" are assigned bodies through pronouns or assumed interiority (7).

Noting that the complex form of Victorian fiction is often the product of multiple, competing points of focalization, Hingston centers her readings on the fragmentation of disabled characters across these works. Taking cues from John Ruskin's disgust for the "aberrant bodies" that spotted the period's bestsellers, Hingston begins with Victor Hugo's popular novel Notre-Dame de Paris, "urtext of body-focused fiction" and the origin of the "hybrid aesthetic" of the Victorian multiplot novel, best recognized by disorienting shifts in genre, narration, and centers of perception (50, 21, 25). While Hugo's representation of Quasimodo initially bolsters a reading of the disabled body as spectacle, Hingston shows how frequent alternations in focalization between an authoritative, nigh-omniscient perspective and moments of situated, limited focalization (Esmeralda, Frollo, and Quasimodo himself) create a "fluctuating incongruity" that unsettles any stable reference for perceiving the disabled body (31, 28). In this line of thinking, Quasimodo's "hypothesize[d]… interiority" links up to Hingston's overarching claim: the production of disability as a social category only comes through the assumptions generated during shifts in focalization, when friction is created between perceiver, perceived, and reader (39).

The force of these assumptions are laid bare in her chapter on Dickens's Bleak House, a novel that famously shifts from first- to third-person narration and, in doing so, exposes the misalignments of form and representation in seeing the disabled body. Esther Summerson's facial scarring often serves as the focal point for interpretations of the novel's larger representation of social decay. In this reading, Esther's disability is seen from the "authoritative" perspective of the third-person narrator. Yet Esther's own identification with her scarring is upset by the distinction between Esther-as-narrator and Esther-as-character. Esther's narration thus "counter[s]" the "system of metaphor linking moral and physical 'pestilence,'' showing that "the disabled body is not representative of social disorder but rather is marginalized by the social norms that interpret that body as abnormal" (61). In the unfinished final sentence of the novel delivered by Esther, readers are returned to the hybrid aesthetic form of Hugo's Notre-Dame, where shifts in focalization disrupt the discourse of disease and deviance circulating around the bodies of other characters in the novel like Jo, Guster, and Phil Squod.

Subsequent chapters consider focalization's embeddedness in character and, accordingly, identity. Sensation fiction is a crucial historical reference point for Hingston in Chapter 3 as a marker for the century's larger shift from "spectacle" to "specimen." In Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Aurora Floyd, when characters prove to be poor judges of identity, "authoritative external focalization and narratorial digressions often overtly provide correct interpretations of bodies" (87). Yet even without a definitive perspective, "correct interpretations" abound: in Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, the lack of an authoritative external narrator does not make up for the overriding presence of "normate narrators," nor does it prevent the narrative's tidy resolution, which entails killing off its disabled characters, Rosanna and Jennings (98). The rejection of individualistic models for assessing disability prompt Hingston's transition in the fourth chapter to consider how disabilities "corporealiz[e] spirituality" in domestic fiction by non-canonical authors Ellice Hopkins and Charlotte Yonge (110). Although both writers are unable to avoid functionalizing physical difference for their plots, their thematizations of religious community pull focalization away from individuality and towards interdependency. Hopkins's novel Rose Turquand primarily aligns disabled experience with suffering, seeing the protagonist's spiritual journey towards health as "sanctifying" disability and "creat[ing] an eschatological linear trajectory of 'cure,'" but glimpses community in Charley's centrality to Rose's family at the end of the narrative (116-117). Conversely, Yonge's intergenerational family melodrama The Pillars of the House stresses interdependency "as the locus for spiritual growth," situated as it is around the Underwood family's care for their chronically ill and disabled members, yet ends with the demise of the same characters for the function of narrative closure (124).

Hingston's final chapters depart from the bulky novels that came before. While intentional, there is something less satisfying in the quick resolution of the manuscript's arc in these shorter works and chapters. The fifth chapter focuses on Dinah Craik's The Little Lame Prince and His Travelling Cloak, attending to its uncertain focalization on the trials of Prince Dolor, cast as an invalid and barred from assuming the throne, only to be granted magical prostheses for venturing beyond the confines of his prison and returning to his rightful place. The seeming simplicity of Craik's narrative generates some of the most complex claims about disability in this manuscript, more so than in any of the formally complex multiplot novels—namely, the "consciousness of restricted physicality" that can only emerge in the illustrations that accompany the text, effectively shifting focalization into the habitus of the reader (153). Hingston's sixth chapter completes the shift from "spectacles of anomaly" to "specimens of abnormality" picked up in her earlier chapter on sensation fiction by leaping ahead to medical case studies (10). Some measure of gradation from the sanctification of disability to its medicalization in the mysteries of Doyle and Stevenson would clarify this leap, which ultimately makes the chapter on Craik feel like an interesting detour, but the last chapter is nevertheless successful in its argument. Focused on the body as proof, Doyle and Stevenson conflate disability and abnormality through their detectives in "The Crooked Man" and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. By relegating abnormality to pathology, both works obviate the body altogether.

Even if these final chapters briefly veer from the trajectory Hingston establishes early in the manuscript, the readings testify to the need for more non-linear treatments of disability in future studies grounded in the aesthetic incongruities produced in these and other texts. Hingston recasts familiar characters, plots, and devices in these novels in a new light but the enduring contribution of this manuscript as a whole demonstrates that formalism does not need to come at the expense of historicism. As Victorianists look to incorporate crucial work in disability studies within the discipline, as they increasingly should, this false dichotomy might someday soon be an anachronism.

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