New book talks back about ventriloquism
'Gender and Ventriloquism in Victorian and Neo-Victorian Fiction', by Dr Helen Davies, is the first book-length study of the relationship between ventriloquism and gender in nineteenth-century fiction and contemporary literature set in the Victorian period (Neo-Victorian), challenging the power relationship between 'ventriloquists' and 'dummies'.
Looking closely at books including George Du Maurier's 'Trilby', featuring the infamous Svengali, Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', and twentieth century novels such as Sarah Waters's 'Tipping the Velvet' and 'Affinity', Helen uses ventriloquism as a way of exploring the politics of contemporary fiction's connections with the nineteenth century.
Helen commented: "Ventriloquism overlaps ideas about hypnotism, mesmerism, control and influence. The figure of a dummy being controlled by a human is quite sinister but it has had an enduring appeal over time. In Victorian literature, the ventriloquist's subject (the person being manipulated by another character) is most often female, which became the basis of my research into passivity, the balance of power and also feminism, as the women are not always passive and vulnerable, particularly in Neo-Victorian works where the traditional gendered power imbalance is challenged."
The new book, which is published by Palgrave Macmillan, has already sparked the interest of BBC's The One Show amongst others, with ventriloquism as an art form seeing a resurgence in the media.
Helen added: "The more edgy stand-up comedians, such as Nina Conti and Jeff Dunham, are giving the genre a new appeal: they use a dummy to be able to say what a human subject can't say. They have free reign to say what is not socially acceptable. Ventriloquism has a dark history but it is becoming more popular as it has started to become more challenging and deal with controversial subjects. The rise of TV talent shows like Britain's Got Talent has pushed the variety genre to the forefront and ventriloquism has always had a big part in the variety genre."