Monstrous Forms of the Fin de Siècle
This essay focuses on the ‘monstrous’ deformities of Miserrimus Dexter in Wilkie Collins’s The Law and the Lady (1875) and their framing within the Victorian interest in teratology – the study of genital birth defects. Born without legs, Dexter is a taxonomical conundrum, positioned somewhere between subject and object and between madness and knowledge. His deformity is, as Katherine Angell makes clear, the object of scientific investigation, but it must also be interpreted in order to resolve the mystery at the heart of the novel’s plot. The dangerous knowledge that he possesses, which as much concerns his deformed body as the key to the novel’s mystery, threatens to exceed the symbolic order and thereby render questionable the ordering principles of science and medicine.
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