Anxious Anatomy: The Conception of the Human Form in Literary and Naturalist Discourse

Stefani Engelstein

Engelstein reconstructs the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century human body to offer startling new readings of major works by Goethe, Blake, Heinrich von Kleist, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen. She links research on reproduction both to the ability of organisms such as hydra, snails, and newts to replace severed heads and gouged out eyes, and also to technical advances in battlefield amputation and artificial limbs.

Readings of German and British literature, alongside natural history, surgery, aesthetics, and art, illuminate the importance of investigations into the body for emerging theories of human subjectivity, gender, volition, ethical behavior, and political organization. The author also demonstrates how attempts to explain the structural characteristics of the body developed into biological justifications for ideologies of race, gender, and social hierarchies.