Theme: A Picture of Health: Representations and Imaginations of Wellbeing and Illness.
Talk Time: 20 Minutes.
Title: Class Contagions and Canine Culprits: Rapid Representations and the Middle Class Imagination in Victorian Britain.
“in all large towns there are dangerous classes among the dogs as well as among the human population […] whose delight it is to bark and bite in an indiscriminate manner, and who, if they are once affected by the fatal virus, become at once active propagators of it far and wide”
‘Dogs and Dog Law’, All The Year Round, 1886, p. 426.
During the Victorian period rabies (or hydrophobia, as it was known in humans) gained a lot of momentum in the imagination of the public. Media depictions were frequent, laws were passed, and people had many different ideas about what turned a dog mad.
Yet despite public concerns regarding rabies, ‘mad dogs’, and the notorious ‘dog days’ of summer, there were very few incidents of confirmed rabies throughout the period. What, then, caused such avid fear and attention from the Victorian public?
This talk will explore one of the factors.
Looking at imagery representing rabies, this talk will propose that the middle classes feared rabies as more than just a disease. Instead rabies became viewed as a contagion—propagated by the lower and dangerous classes—which had the potential to attack and corrupt the wellbeing of middle class bodies, values and morals.
This middle class imagination, it will be proposed, was reinforced by visual representations of rabies; which served to strengthen notions of mad dogs as violent, law-breaking, and dangerous curs of the streets rather than the afflicted and ailing animals that they were.