Senior Project Advisor

Anderson, Katherine J.

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2020


Habitus, Haptic, Victorian Fiction, History, Literary Theory, Wilkie Collins, Imperialism, Critique, Doppelgänger, Jung


Victorian society viewed physical appearance and internalized habit as direct manifestations of a person’s shame, history, and identity. This makes any attempt to understand a Victorian literary character a simultaneous attempt to understand their body’s habitus. Wilkie Collins, a prominent serial novelist from the era, capitalized on habitus’ importance by using it as a central plot tool throughout his novels The Woman in White (1859), Armadale (1864), The Moonstone (1868), and Poor Miss Finch (1872). Each of these works reveals his affinity for writing fictional characters whose bodies’ habitus link them to a double, or an alternate self, leading to an inevitable crisis of identity. Habitus in his work functions in one of two ways, either as the connecting factor between two characters, or the barrier that keeps those sharing the same name apart. Through either construction, habitus’ close relationship with identity is at the core of what makes doubling possible as a significant plot device across these novels.

The Oxford introduction to Armadale discusses this pattern in Collins work, reading his creation of a self and a corresponding “shadow self” through Carl Jung’s theory of identity. Pairing this reading with Sigmund Freud’s conceptualization of the uncanny and Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of habitus reveals both why and how Collins was able to use cultural perceptions of habitus and identity to manipulate the barriers between his characters. The significance of a single identity split between two physical forms is complicated when analyzing Collins’ repeated ending trope. The plots of each novel adopt a similar resolution, involving one of the bodies absorbing the “shadow” identity through sacrifice or exile so that the other can live free of shadow to a fulfilling ending. This consistent conclusion holds racial, theoretical, and national significance that muddies how to understand not just Victorian constructions of the self and the body, but how those identities worked in relation to class, race, and nationality.

This presentation uncovers the pillars that support the emergent literary theory of the Darker Haptic Counterpart. The theory itself aims to identify and critique the imperialist undertones manifested through the trope of doppelgängers in Victorian fiction, using a blend of Jungian, Freudian, and original theoretic concepts. Though the presentation applies the theory to one Victorian novel, Armadale (1864), it can be applied across large swathes of Victorian literature and culture in response to how they understood the body, the self, and the doppelgänger.



Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

Habitus (Sociology); English literature--19th century

Subjects - Names (LCNAF)

Collins, Wilkie, 1824-1889--Criticism and interpretation


student projects; term papers




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