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  • Derek Woods (a1)

The Great Stink of London took place one year before the publication of George Eliot's The Lifted Veil (1859). As a peak sanitary crisis, the Great Stink helps us to understand the particular telepathy of Eliot's narrator, since The Lifted Veil combines the rhetoric of telepathy with that of a more threatening form of transmission among bodies: foul odor and contagious air. Throughout the figurative structure of Eliot's story, tropes that convey the narrator's ostensibly supernatural experience contain traces – sometimes cryptic, sometimes explicit – of the earthly matter of sanitary crisis. The first section of this essay explores the sanitary dimension of The Lifted Veil, linking the story to sanitary crisis and to Victorian materialist psychology – particularly the work of George Henry Lewes – which conceived mind in physical terms. With the role of sanitation established, the second section shows the importance of the sense of smell to Latimer's first-person narration of telepathy. This section outlines the transition, contemporaneous with sanitary reform, from the use of animal to the use of vegetable perfumes. Throughout the story, vegetable scents act as prophylaxes against the narrator's too-physical telepathy. From these readings, it becomes clear that Eliot writes “extrasensory” perception with recourse to sensory figures. Telepathy and sanitation overlap in this exceptional gothic science fiction in such a way as to demand a new concept of olfactory telepathy.

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Victorian Literature and Culture
  • ISSN: 1060-1503
  • EISSN: 1470-1553
  • URL: /core/journals/victorian-literature-and-culture
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