Infantalization, Anti-Feminism, and The Female Sexuality of Vivisection in Wilkie Collins's Heart and Science by Mariah Merriam
In Wilkie Collins’s Heart and Science, gender is handled very carefully and intentionally. The women within this novel are characterized into two categories: sexually inexperienced and intellectually provocative. Women in the novel that represent the ideal English woman, such as Carmina, are presented as sexually inexperienced and full of compassion for animals. The ideal woman was child-like in her sexual inexperience and naivety towards topics easily understood by men. Meanwhile, women who represented the New Woman, such as Mrs. Gallilee, are presented as intellectually provocative and cruel. The New Woman was a woman who did not conform to societal expectations of women in the 19th century, and Collins’s interpretation of the New Woman as void of compassion reflects the public tensions against the insertion of women into male-dominated fields during the Women’s Rights Movement. This strain is integral to understanding the insurmountable pressures placed upon Victorian women in a society, such that society would dissect her choices and presentation regardless of which category she fell in.<br/><br/> Both the ideal woman and the New Woman in Wilkie Collins’s “Heart and Science” are repeatedly compared to children and animals, exposing the degraded stance of women within nineteenth-century society. Women were viewed as having lesser intellectual and emotional capabilities than their male counterparts, resulting in the association of women with other “lesser” beings. Collins’s negative portrayal of the New Woman and the pedophilic sexualization of the ideal woman represent how the Victorian woman was “vivisected” by patriarchal society. The meticulous and nonconsensual dissection of a woman’s entire being, from her sexuality to her intellectual capacity, resulted in women identifying with vivisected animals and thus resulted in a strong feminine presence in the Anti-Vivisection Movement. <br/><br/>The connection between women, the Anti-Vivisection Movement, and female sexuality provides context for the success of the Women’s Rights Movement. Victorian women stood against vivisection because they understood what it was like to have their bodies be used without their consent, and they understood the battle between men’s desires and women’s rights to their bodies. Women also identified with being picked apart by society, as a woman’s worth lay in her physical appearance and her sexual and intellectual reputation. Through the Anti-Vivisection Movement’s success, women realized that they could insert themselves into scientific conversation and succeeding at helping those who are voiceless. The traction from the Anti-Vivisection Movement carried into the fervor for the Women’s Rights Movement, because women stood together in a way that had never been done before and rejected all preconceived notions of their status in society.