Silver, Anna Krugovoy
SILVER, Anna Krugovoy
Female. Education: Haverford College, B.A., 1990; Emory University, Ph.D., 1998.
Office—Department of Women's and Gender Studies, College of Liberal Arts, Mercer University, 1400 Coleman Ave., Macon, GA 31207-0001. E-mail—[email protected]
Mercer University, Macon, GA, assistant professor of English and interdisciplinary studies, director of women's and gender studies.
Anna Krugovoy Silver's Victorian Literature and the Anorexic Body is a study of the Victorian roots of a modern epidemic. Silver writes that anorexia—an extreme supression of appetite—was first "discovered" in the nineteenth century, with its idealized "angel in the house" view of woman as one who suppressed bodily needs for food and sex, and who embraced her spiritual, rather than physical nature. Silver notes English novelist Charles Dickens's naming of "Little" Nell and "Little" Dorrit as typical of the association between size and femininity, an association that strongly compares to the anorexic condition. In Victorian times, a small waist indicated self-control and purity, while a heavier body indicated a lack thereof. Silver notes that men and boys were expected to control their food intake as well.
Silver follows the centuries-old trend of overemphasis on size, which, she argues, fosters women's anxiety about their bodies. "These forces emerge most obviously, in her account, in the Victorian period, but are themselves rooted in the dualism of body and soul, which has pervaded the history of Western culture," commented Juliet John in the Times Literary Supplement. Silver studies the literature of the Victorian period, including children's literature by writers and illustrators such as Lewis Carroll, Kate Greenaway, John Ruskin, and others; vampire literature; the writings of poet Christina Rossetti; and letters sent to The Girl's Own Paper. She writes that Charlotte Bronté's novels Shirley and Villette and Bram Stoker's Dracula emphasize "hunger over gluttony" and "exaggerate anxieties about female consumption."
Choice reviewer M. E. Burstein commented that "notably, she [Silver] refuses to align herself with those feminists who interpret anorexia as a mode of revolt." In an English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 review, Heidi Hanrahan found interesting Silver's chapter on Rossetti, wherein Silver "argues that the poet's move from secular to spiritual subjects necessitates a reading within the traditions of medieval mystics and saints." Hanrahan felt that this "complicates her main thesis, asserting that fasting behavior does not necessarily indicate anorexia."
John noted that Silver does not suggest why anorexia nervosa became common during the Victorian era. "Otherwise," said John, "Silver covers her bases thoroughly, connecting philosophy, medical theories, theology, feminist literary theory, Victorian literature and culture and biographical accounts of anorexia with clarity and common sense." John also emphasized the value of this study to modern young women who are vulnerable to eating disorders. Burstein called the book "lucid and well-written."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Choice, February, 2003, M. E. Burstein, review of Victorian Literature and the Anorexic Body, p. 986.
English Literature in Transition 1880-1920, fall, 2003, Heidi Hanrahan, review of Victorian Literature and the Anorexic Body, p. 468.
Times Literary Supplement, January 17, 2003, Juliet John, review of Victorian Literature and the Anorexic Body, p. 8.*