CfP: Neo-Victorian Contagion: Re-Imagining Past Epidemics, Infection Control and Public Health Crises

 Guest Editors: Caroline Koegler & Marlena Tronicke

2021/22 Special Issue of Neo-Victorian Studies (

Commentators on the Covid-19 crisis have repeatedly evoked comparisons with the Spanish Flu of 1918-20, but parallels could also be drawn with four influenza epidemics that occurred between 1830 and 1848, the first of which medical historians likewise suspect of originating in China. All four epidemics resulted in high mortality rates, particularly among the elderly, vying with other invidious period ‘killers’, such as cholera, smallpox and syphilis. The nineteenth-century spread of diseases underlines the interconnectedness of Western empires, their antagonists, and colonial peripheries long before the advent of globalised capitalism, exposing the Eurocentric threats as much as benefits of free trade and so-called progress and world improvement. This special issue will explore neo-Victorian representations of epidemics, the impact of uncontrolled disease outbreaks on communities and nations, their precipitation of medical innovation and social change, and their exposure of social divisions, economic disparities, and human precarity. We especially invite contributions that reflect on how artists and writers re-imagine past pandemics to reflect present-day anxieties around virulent killer diseases, for instance AIDS, SARS, Ebola, and Swine Flu, as well as concerns about medical research, ethics, experimentation, and treatments, such as vaccines. Possible other topics may include, but need not be limited to, the following:

  • neo-Victorian representations of disease outbreaks, medical discoveries, and treatments
  • epidemiological warfare as a tool of colonisation and racial politics
  • neo-Victorian biofictions of virologist and epidemiologist practitioners and pioneers
  • contamination horror: pandemic re-writing as a Gothic mode
  • the remediation of nineteenth-century public health concerns in present-day politics
  • conceiving neo-Victorianism as a quasi-virus ‘infecting’ the historical fictional mode
  • environmental toxins, epidemics, and ecocriticism
  • figurations of mass dying and affect/reader response

Please address enquiries and expressions of interest to the NVS General Editor, Marie-Luise Kohlke. Abstracts/proposals of 250-300 words, with accompanying brief bio note, will be due by 30 October 2020. Completed articles will be due by 15 March 2021. Abstracts and articles in Word document format should be sent via email to Please consult the NVS website (‘Submission Guidelines’) for further guidance.