Phantom Limb: An Exploration of Queer Manner in Nineteenth-Century Gothic Tales

Casey Michelle O'Reilly, University of Vermont


The term “phantom limb” is used to describe the phenomenal tingling sensation that occurs in the nerve endings of an amputated limb; though the limb is no longer physically attached to the body, the person experiences pain and physical sensation in the space the limb once occupied. Though the body part has been removed, it haunts both the body and the brain. It is through this metaphor that I am interested in investigating the connection between the disembodied and the embodied.

The disembodied connects to the embodied through the loss or lack of a bodily form; the embodied, therefore, links the disembodied to movements and mannerisms of the body. Adopting Pierre Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice, I define manner as a fluctuating force that operates as a spectrum. Manner links, rather than separates, the internal and the external through the social. In other words, the interplay between the internal and external must be socially interpreted in order to be understood as manner.

The first chapter of my thesis will focus on embodied manner and use Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a case study to explain how society impacts the construction of normative manner. Building off Jack Halberstam, I adopt the theory that Mr. Hyde “is both a sexual secret, the secret of Jekyll’s undignified desires, and a visible representation of physical otherness” (82). My argument focuses on the connection between the “deformity hidden within” Mr. Hyde and that “inscribed upon” that Utterson, Enfield and Lanyon struggle to identify (82).

The second chapter of my thesis will focus on how manner operates as both a disciplinary force and cultural haunting. In other words, just as the phantom limb reproduces a distorted version of the lost limb, the social control of manner ultimately reproduces imperfect replicas. In George Eliot’s The Lifted Veil, the protagonist, Latimer, begins suffering from visions after he parts ways with his dear friend Charles Meunier. Here, the unconscious operates at the individual level; I argue that these “visions” are the result of an implosion of Latimer’s repressed sexuality.

I then turn to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper to argue that manner operates as a type of social law that attempts to stave off haunting but instead inadvertently reproduces it. In this section, I argue that the narrator’s secondary status as a female character gives her a different kind of agency from Mr. Hyde and Latimer, and that her husband’s ultimate failure to control her results in a type of queer production that calls into question the dialectical relationship between haunting and manner.