English 275: Fictions of Deformity
Fall 1996
MWF 11-12

Erin O'Connor

At the turn of the eighteenth-century, modern teratology--the science of monsters--was born. Doctors sought to systematize, analyze and explain deformity, experimenting on eggs and animals, and even buying the bodies of deceased freaks for purposes of dissection and skeletal display. This new emphasis on monstrosity--the need to organize, understand and control--coincided with the publication of one of the most celebrated monster narratives of all time, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818). Taking as our starting point Shelley's story about a scientist who assembles and animates a monster from pieces of human and animal corpses, we will track the deformed body across a range of nineteenth- and twentieth-century literary and medical texts.Examining the multiple and shifting ways deformity has been narrated over time, we will pay particular attention to moments when the misshapen body becomes the means of articulating transgressive fantasies of culture; in other words, when twisted bodies give rise to twisted stories. Our scope will be broad, locating literary and medical treatments of deformity in the context of broad debates about the social status of human defect--from the fabulous popularity of the Victorian freak show to the ethics of modern genetic engineering. We will flesh out our inquiry with a variety of non-fictional readings drawn from nineteenth-century teratology, medical case studies, personal testimonials, side show circulars, and contemporary critical theory.

Required Texts:

Available at Penn Book Center:

Course Requirements:


9/4 Introduction
9/6 Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, (first half)
9/9 Frankenstein, finish
9/11 Michel Foucault, from Discipline and Punish (bulkpack)
9/13 Ruth Richardson, "The Corpse as Commodity," "The Sanctity of the Grave Asserted" (bulkpack)
9/16 Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland / Through the Looking-Glass
9/18 Alice, contd.
9/20 Thomas Richards, "The Great Exhibition of Things" "The Iron Seamstress" (bulkpack)
9/23 Michel Foucault, from The History of Sexuality (bulkpack)
9/25 Rider Haggard, She, chaps. 1-8
9/27 She, chaps. 9-17
9/30 She, chaps. 18-28
10/2 Sander Gilman, "Black Bodies, White Bodies" (bulkpack)
10/4 "The Autobiography of Joseph Merrick" "The Elephant Man" (bulkpack) [Mutter Museum]
10/7 Mark Twain, Puddn'head Wilson, 1-14
10/9 Pudd̥nhead Wilson, 15-end
10/11 Karen Sanchez-Eppler, "Bodily Bonds" (bulkpack)
10/14 [no class]
10/16 Twain, "Those Extraordinary Twins"
10/18 Twain, "Personal Habits of the Siamese Twins" "History and Medical Description of the Two-Headed Girl" (bulkpack)
10/21 L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz (all)
10/23 Richard von Krafft-Ebing, from Psychopathia Sexualis (bulkpack)
10/25 Karen Halttunen, "From Parlor to Living Room" (bulkpack)
10/28 L. Frank Baum, The Tin Woodman of Oz
10/30 Joanna Bourke, "Mutilating" (bulkpack)
11/1 Bill Brown, "Prosthetics of Empire" (bulkpack)
11/4 Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, (all)
11/6 Brave New World, contd.
11/8 Klaus Theweleit, from Male Fantasies (bulkpack)
11/11 Katherine Dunn, Geek Love
11/13 Geek Love, contd.
11/15 Geek Love, contd.
11/18 Donna Haraway, "Manifesto for Cyborgs"
11/20 Alisdair Gray, Poor Things
11/22 Poor Things, contd.
11/25 Poor Things, contd.
11/27 no class
12/2 Donna Haraway, "The Promises of Monsters"
12/4 synthesis
12/6 no class Student Conferences
12/9 no class Student Conferences