'The Additional Attraction of Affliction': Disability, Sex, and Genre Trouble in Barchester Towers

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Walker-Gore, CH 

WHILE THERE IS NEVER any serious doubt that Mr. Arabin, clergyman hero of Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers (1857), is destined to marry our heroine, Eleanor Bold, there are moments in the novel when he is all but overcome by the charms of Signora Madeline Neroni, most beautiful and most amoral member of the rackety Stanhope family. Having spent her wicked youth in Italy, where her father has been taking an extended leave of absence from his clerical duties – curtailed only by a peremptory summons from the new Bishop – Madeline is entertaining herself during her enforced stay in Barchester by waging a concerted campaign of seduction, intending “to have parsons at her feet” (86–87; vol. 1, ch. 10). The fact that she never leaves her sofa does nothing to impede her success in this regard: although Madeline is described by the narrator as “a helpless, hopeless cripple” (270; vol. 1, ch. 27), every man she meets is shown to fall under her spell. In fact, when Arabin finds himself “mak[ing] comparisons between her and Eleanor Bold, not always in favour of the latter,” he reflects that Madeline is “the more lovely woman of the two, and had also the additional attraction of her affliction; for to him it was an attraction” (74; vol. 2, ch. 34). Far from diminishing her “loveliness,” Madeline’s disability actually heightens her sexual appeal for Arabin.

47 Language, Communication and Culture, 4705 Literary Studies
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Victorian Literature and Culture
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Cambridge University Press