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Starving by Numbers

William Farr, Medical Statistics and the Social Aesthetics of Hunger

Andrew S. Mangham    University of Reading, UK    

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abstract

This essay argues that Alton Locke (1850) by Charles Kingsley might be read as a response to a tension that emerged, in the nineteenth century, between the imperatives of political economy and medicine. The baggy, reference-laden nature of the novel offers a unique insight into the complex negotiations of what constitutes a narrative of hunger. These negotiations then form part of a discussion of the 'aesthetics' of hunger narratives, which became a central note in the statistical work of men like Edwin Chadwyck and William Farr. What Alton Locke suggests is that there is only an impure aesthetics of hunger; attempts to sanitise the issue by turning it into a series of facts and figures served only to make the matter worse.

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