By Katharina Boehm (auth.)
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Additional info for Charles Dickens and the Sciences of Childhood: Popular Medicine, Child Health and Victorian Culture
When Dickens and Cruikshank visited the hospital, they probably witnessed Elliotson sending the girls into a deep stupor by staring into their eyes and making so-called ‘magnetic passes’: slow, sweeping movements with his hands close to their bodies. In this state, the girls acted like living marionettes and responded to Elliotson’s every gesture, even if he stood behind their backs. They imitated his facial expressions, assumed uncomfortable poses, became rigid like corpses and fell to the ground at his prompting.
The sisters drew crowds of curious observers, including many politicians, scientists and literary writers. 45 During mesmerist experiments, Elizabeth and Jane frequently acted ‘in the most childish manner’, answering questions ‘as you would expect a very silly child to do’, as their uncle, A. F. 47 During the same session, the mesmerized Elizabeth talked about the hospital as her home and, like a playful child, cast the medical students and doctors into the roles of family members. 49 It is impossible to know whether the childish behaviour of the O’Key sisters was natural to their personalities, or if they acted the role of younger children on the mesmerist stage to appear more innocent and thus more credible as experimental subjects.
78 Sutherland surmises that Dickens had at one point planned to include another abduction scene; when he changed his mind, Cruikshank had already supplied the illustration of Fagin and Monks at the window, scheming to kidnap Oliver. 79 However, this account of Oliver’s vision as a hasty makeshift solution to a plot problem fails to take into account Dickens’s sustained and complex negotiation of mesmerist influences throughout the novel. I read the cottage scene and Cruikshank’s accompanying illustration as a carefully crafted transformation of a mesmerist experiment into literary–pictorial form.