Call for Contributions: Victorian Reproductions

deadline for submissions: 
June 1, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
contact email: 

Victorian Reproductions


Call for Contributions


Journal for the Study of British Cultures (2/24)

Guest Editors: Sarah Wegener and Wolfgang Funk


Following the surge of medico-scientific tracts on human anatomy and sexuality (Gray’s Anatomy; Geddes and Thomson’s Evolution of Sex; William Acton’s Function and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs; William Buchan’s Advice to Mothers) and in the wake of Darwin’s evolutionary theories in The Origin of the Species, reproduction became a topic widely discussed in Victorian literature and culture. As science began to open up the human body for the public gaze, gestation and childbirth became increasingly alienated from the mother and maternal agency (Doyle 16). Evolutionary principles of arbitrariness and natural selection worked to consolidate a hierarchy of the sexes, which tended to reduce woman to her childbearing role (Spencer 30-33, Levine 170-73, Poovey 6, 35). At the same time, the reproductive body sparked awe and anxiety. Mutable and porous, it not only announced its own sexuality, but it also potentially posed a threat to the wholesome and stable middle-class body (Malone 376; Matus 47-58).

Alongside these scientific discourses on and around the reproductive and reproducing body, the notion of ‘reproduction’ was widely employed to signify a more inclusive conception of cultural creation and authorship. Nineteenth-century psycho-physiology cast the human mind as a universal gestational cavity, reproducing ideas and sensations, thus reinforcing a more broadly cultural annexation of reproduction (Brown 672). While at least since the Renaissance, childbirth has been used metaphorically time and again to express artistic creativity and intellectual production (Friedmann 49), it is also widely deployed by both male and female Victorian writers for whom it provides “a metaphor deeply vexed, internally incoherent, occasionally essentialist, and potentially empowering” (Weber 276). For many women writers, such as Mary Shelley or Elizabeth Barrett Browning, their literary offspring offered a way to symbolise and critically reflect conventional role ascriptions in the process of creating life as well as letters (Taylor 158). Especially the fin de siècle spawned many works which renegotiated reproduction in both its biological, scientific and cultural sense. Productions and reproductions in and of texts thus merge with cultural reflections about procreation, configurations of bodies and gender, as well as the development of the human species in general.

For this issue of JSBC,we are looking for contributions that aim to uncover some of the complex cultural and textual relations and representations of reproduction. We especially invite contributions on cultural (re)negotiations of reproduction in its various scientific, philosophical, or metaphorical expressions.  Papers targeting the long nineteenth century more generally are also welcome, as are papers on Neo-Victorian texts. Since JSBC is a cultural-studies journal, we encourage the submission of papers that do not focus on literary texts, or at least not exclusively so.


Potential topics can include, but are not limited to:

  • Darwinism, Lamarckism, biology, genetics, scientific ideas of reproduction
  • Cultural (re)figurations of evolution and reproduction
  • Anatomy and anatomical depictions of reproduction and reproductive organs
  • Ecology and reproduction of organisms and plants
  • Socio-political interpretations of evolution and motherhood, Bodies and body politics, eugenics  
  • Birth, gestation, labour, the womb
  • Maternity, the female/maternal body
  • Midwifery, obstetrics, motherhood advisory literature
  • Male practitioners, the male gaze in reproduction, practices of anaesthesia
  • Victorian sexual morals, practices of concealing and revealing reproduction and reproducing bodies
  • The scientific appreciation and definition of childbirth, as well as of complications and pathologies connected with it
  • Embodiment and the reproduction of sensations
  • Reproduction of art, intellectual appropriation of reproduction, the text as brain-child
  • Periodicity and cyclicality
  • Neo-Victorian reproductions


Please submit abstracts (400-500 words) accompanied by a short bio note to both guest editors for this issue: Sarah Wegener ( and Wolfgang Funk ( by 1 June 2023. Finished articles (5,000 words) will be due by 1 October 2023.



Acton, William. The Function and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs in Childhood, Youth, Adult Age, and Advanced Life. Considered in Their Physiological, Social, and Moral Relations. London, J. & A. Churchill, 1875.

Brown, Thomas. Lectures on the Philosophy of the Human Mind. Edinburgh, Black, 1851.

Buchan, William. Advice to Mothers, on the Subject of Their Own Health, and on the Means of Promoting the Health, Strength, and Beauty, of Their Offspring. Philadelphia, John Bioren, 1804.

Doyle, Nora. Maternal Bodies: Redefining Motherhood in Early America. University of North Carolina Press, 2018.

Friedman, Susan Stanford. “Creativity and the Childbirth Metaphor: Gender Differences in Literary Discourse.” Feminist Studies, vol. 13, no. 1, 1987, pp. 49-82.

Geddes, Patrick and Sir John Arthur Thomson. The Evolution of Sex. W. Scott, 1889.

Gray, Henry. Anatomy: Descriptive and Surgical. London, J.W. Parker, 1858.

Levine, George. Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Re-Enchantment of the World. Princeton University Press, 2006.

Malone, Cynthia N. “Near Confinement: Pregnant Women in the Nineteenth-Century British Novel.” Dickens Studies Annual, vol 29, Spring 2009.

Marland, Hilary. Dangerous Motherhood: Insanity and Childbirth in Victorian Britain. Springer, 2004.

---. “Women, Health and Medicine.” The Oxford Handbook of the History of Medicine, edited by Mark Jackson, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 484-502.

Matus, Jill L. Unstable Bodies. Victorian Representations of Sexuality and Maternity. Manchester Univ. Press, 1995.

Poovey, Mary. Uneven Developments. The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England. Virago Press, 1989.

Richardson, Angelique. Love and Eugenics in the Late Nineteenth Century: Rational Reproduction and the New Woman. OUP, 2003.

Spencer, Herbert. "Psychology of the Sexes." The Popular Science Monthly, vol 4, 1874, pp. 30-38.

Taylor, Olivia Gatti. “Written in Blood: The Art of Mothering Epic in the Poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.” Victorian Poetry, vol. 44, no. 2, 2006, pp. 153-164.

Weber, Brenda R. “The Text as Child: Gender/Sex and Metaphors of Maternity at the Fin de Siècle.” Other Mothers: Beyond the Maternal Ideal, edited by Ellen Bayuk Rosenman and Claudia C. Klaver, Ohio State University Press, 2008, pp. 271-290.