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The Variable Body in History


Chris Mounsey and Stan Booth

The essays in this book explore the different ways the body has been experienced and interpreted in history, from the medieval to the modern period. Challenging the negative perceptions that the term ‘disability’ suggests, the essays together present a mosaic of literary representations of bodies and accounts of real lives lived in their particularity and peculiarity. The book does not attempt to be exhaustive, but rather it celebrates the fact that it is not. By presenting a group of individual cases from different periods in history, the collection demonstrates that any overarching way of describing bodies, or unifying description of the experience of the myriad ways of being in a body, is reductive and unhelpful. The variability of each body in its context is our subject.
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Improper Conjunctions: Scandalous Images and Dangerous Bodies in ‘Crim. Con. Temptations with Prices Affix’d’



The essay examines variations of a satirical print, ‘Crim. Con. Temptations with Prices Affix’d’, to a late century debate about legal treatment of adulterous liaisons, one that depends upon the legal fiction (a ‘queer’ conjunction between law and the fictive) that a wife is the property of her husband rather than a desiring body. Women are innately troubling because as both subjects of law (covered by their husbands and fathers) and as property that can be contested at law, they drag the object-physical status of the body into courts of law. This image exemplifies the value of visual imagery for exploring how human variability made visible and significant. However difficult to engage, caricature, because it discovers what is unique about someone’s face, posture, or physique and exaggerating it to produce a recognizable and mocking image, attends carefully to (and perhaps even creates) signifying cultural markers that undercut both a classical ideal and a modern ‘normal’.

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