Uncanny Incisions:Plastic Surgery in the Gothic Mode

Gibson, Rebecca (2021) Uncanny Incisions:Plastic Surgery in the Gothic Mode. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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This thesis examines how the Gothic mode has been employed from the late 1800s to the present day in presenting subversive and complex visions of plastic surgery and its aftermath. In contrast to common polarised representations of plastic surgery in popular media, I argue that in selected texts ranging across fiction, film and television, characters are rendered strange by their surgery but that this strangeness can prove productive. The texts I discuss complicate preconceived assumptions of surgical monstrosity by characterising the mutilated and surgical body as alternately vulnerable and capable of unexpected forms of agency. While there has been a recent surge in scholarship surrounding medical Gothic, little has been written about plastic surgery, leaving a gap within both Gothic studies and the medical humanities that this thesis intends to fill. Plastic surgery is a divisive subject, often reduced in cultural conversation to either a quick fix solution or an exploitative focus on ‘botched’ procedures. This thesis pulls together Gothic representations of plastic surgery across a range of formats and genres which challenge these perceptions. Beginning with late Victorian texts that depict a fear of social unintelligibility stemming from the alteration of an individual’s face, I then track this thread through to late-twentieth and early twenty-first-century depictions of plastic surgery which offer new formulations of monstrosity and beauty. I posit that these Gothic depictions of plastic surgery centre the often-frightening isolation of the patient experience, exploring the fragmentation and reconstruction of identity through the slow and often discontinuous process of recovery. Gothic provides an outlet for these characters’ post-surgical vulnerability and/or isolation, allowing them a measure of freedom and individuality to define themselves in their new bodies – it gives them a different lens through which to view the world, however unnerving it might be.

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Thesis (PhD)
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03 Nov 2021 21:21
Last Modified:
21 Sep 2023 03:35