The Hand and the Mind, the Man and the Monster

Issue: Vol 7, No 1: Summer 2016
Pages: 107-136
Author(s): Kimberly Cox (Chadron State College)
Citation: http://victoriannetwork.org/index.php/vn/article/view/75

Abstract

This article reads the monstrous hand in Victorian fiction as a parallel for the dangerously different mind and brain. The human hand and brain were perceived by the Victorian scientific community as mutually constitutive and as having evolved in tandem, such that the hand becomes the symbol of human superiority. The hand's dexterity and sensitive nerves of touch capable of effecting the mind's ambition distinguishes it from the paws, claws, and "hands" of animals. Yet, as books on hand-phrenology reveal, not all human hands are the same. Hand-phrenologists equated manual sensitivity with intellect and brain size. The human hand that signifies the superior human intellect is traditionally English, male, educated, upper-middle class, and capable of engaging in "civilised" forms of sympathetic touch with his fellow beings. Humans distinguished themselves from the animals they evolved from with their thinking hands that both act as agents of the mind and brain and communicate knowledge of the world to them. Hands that act on the world through touch but lack the manual sensitivity necessary to facilitate such intercommunication prove monstrous in their inability to form stable social connections necessary to human progress. This article argues that monstrous hands in H. G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), and H. Rider Haggard's She (1887) are those that initially appear human, but reveal through their dulled tactile sense and manual deformity a depraved mind with unnatural brain power. In the figure of Moreau, the monster's hand and the human hand appear interchangeable until his hand is nearly severed, reflecting his brain that sought to evolve beyond human limitation but was still bound by human failing. Monstrosity and humanity overlap in monstrous hands that parallel monstrous minds, problematising the clear boundaries that structured Victorian society and classified the people that comprised it.



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