Inspired by Erving Goffman’s understanding of stigma management, Stefani Brusberg-Kiermeier takes a fresh look at the representation of Otherness and transgression in Victorian fiction in different forms – social and moral as well as physical, in terms of gender and mentality as well as aestheticism. In reaction to current disability studies, Brusberg-Kiermeier proposes the term ‘unfitness’ as a more appropriate and holistic concept for the examination of Victorian texts and implies that it was unfitness that was suspended over the heads of the Victorians like the sword of Damocles.
In contrast to studies on the Gothic or enfreakment, this investigation places the inclusive strategies of the texts in the limelight and argues that the narratives were often motivated by reformative ideas. For their white middle-class didactic project the authors appropriated the concept of sympathy – which Darwin established as a biological one – as the ‘social glue’ to bind different members of society together.
The conceptualization of the investigation has also been inspired by the Victorians’ fascination with categorization and classification. The categories adopted, adapted, and questioned in this scholarly ‘cabinet of curiosities’ are derived from the cultural constructions of the time and reflect the Victorians’ views of unfitness.