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    On the invisible threat: bacteriologists in fiction and periodical advertisements, 1894-1913

    Fifield, Peter (2018) On the invisible threat: bacteriologists in fiction and periodical advertisements, 1894-1913. Journal of Victorian Culture 24 (1), pp. 33-52. ISSN 1355-5502.

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    This article explores the values attributed to the new science of bacteriology in five early stories of bacteriologists: H. G. Wells’ ‘The Stolen Bacillus’ (1894), T. Mullett Ellis’s Zalma (1895), W. L. Alden’s ‘The Purple Death’ (1895), Algernon Blackwood’s ‘Max Hensig’ (1907), and Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Adventure of the Dying Detective’ (1913). I argue that the new science becomes a vehicle for anxieties about anarchist terrorism and German militarism. Responding to Martin Willis’s (2011) account of the microscope’s creative function at the fin de siècle, I suggest that the distinctive qualities of bacteriological science inflect the plot and style of these tales, as well as the nature of their fictional antagonists. These qualities include the magnification of an otherwise invisible threat and the ensuing distortion of the scientist’s moral judgement, the discrepancy between microbial size and potency, and German dominance in the field. The formal mechanisms of the texts, their patterns of tension and revelation, are also shown to interact with the new dynamics of bacteriological science and its play of visibility and invisibility. Comparing these texts with contemporaneous advertisements, I point out that the bacteriologist was simultaneously portrayed, to the same audiences, as a vector of threat and a trustworthy authority underwriting new commercial products. This divergence suggests the pliancy of bacteriology’s cultural significance and the limited influence of fiction on commercial uses of bacteriology. I argue that such fiction exploits limited public knowledge of the bacteriologist to develop an enduring motif of bacteriology as a moral and political danger.


    Item Type: Article
    Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis, available online at the link above.
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Bacteriologist, Bacteriology, Germany, Anarchism, Invisibility, Advertisement, Wells, Ellis, Doyle, Alden, Blackwood.
    School: School of Arts > English, Theatre and Creative Writing
    Research Centres and Institutes: Medical Humanities, Centre for
    Depositing User: Peter Fifield
    Date Deposited: 25 Jun 2018 13:17
    Last Modified: 12 Jun 2021 06:02


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