The Limits of the Human: Fictions of Anomaly, Race and Gender in the Long Eighteenth Century

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In this book, Felicity Nussbaum examines literary and cultural representations of human difference in England and its empire during the long eighteenth century. With a special focus on women's writing, Nussbaum analyzes canonical and lesser-known novels and plays from the Restoration to abolition. She considers a range of anomalies (defects, disease, and disability) as they intermingle with ideas of femininity, masculinity, and race to define 'normalcy' as national identity. Incorporating writings by Behn, Burney, and the Bluestockings, as well as Southerne, Shaftesbury, Johnson, Sterne, and Equiano, Nussbaum treats a range of disabilities - being mute, blind, lame - and physical oddities such as eunuchism and giantism as they are inflected by emerging notions of a racial femininity and masculinity. She shows that these corporeal features, perceived as aberrant and extraordinary, combine in the popular imagination to reveal a repertory of differences located between the extremes of splendid and horrid novelty.