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1 Subject: Embodiment and the Senses
2 Self: Material Interiority in Dickens and Bronte
3 Skin: Surface and Sensation in Trollope's "The Banks of the Jordan"
4 Senses: Face and Feeling in Hardy's The Return of the Native
5 Soul: Inside Hopkins
Posted June 13, 2009
I read this book for a research project and, on an academic level, was disappointed. Cohen's discussions are interesting, particularly when he provides readings of Victorian texts. However, because there is work out there that contradicts his argument, he needed to take that on before asserting his own findings in order for that argument to be persuasive. The important debates on physiology and materialism in the 19th century need to provide the context and background for Cohen's ideas; I think he leads non-experts astray a bit by leaving so much of these out.
This is not an exhaustive study, by any means. There are several places where ideas beg to be pushed further--particularly when Cohen brings up the usefulness of his ideas in relation to queer theory. Beyond the comment itself, he doesn't discuss queer theory at all. Overall, while the readings themselves are fascinating and enjoyable, the argumentative framework for them is often weak. The book as a whole is written as though Cohen wishes to begin a conversation with it, but the enormous volume of work already done on embodiment, physiology, etc. (much of it in his bibliography), demonstrates that this critical discussion has been going on for quite some time.
If you're an academic, this text may not be that useful for you. If, however, you are a general reader interested in embodiment and the Victorian period, this text will probably be pretty interesting and useful. I would just recommend supplementing it with a more comprehensive text on Victorian theories of the mind/body, such as _Metaphors of Mind in Fiction and Psychology_ by Michael S. Kearns; or _Victorian Psychology and British Culture, 1850-1880_ by Rick Rylance.