Clayton Carlyle Tarr 1
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  • 1 Michigan State University
Long in the Tooth
Dental Degeneracy and the Savage Mouth
in Gothic Studies
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At roughly the same time that dentistry became a respected profession, teeth became a sign of biological origin. In the nineteenth century, long, white, uniform teeth signalled the threat of degeneracy, a counter narrative to evolution predicated on humanity‘s decline into a primitive, animalistic state. We can trace this anxiety through depictions of native people‘s teeth in travel narratives, slave narratives, and accounts of the auction block. The distinctly menacing mouths of white characters, such as Poe‘s Berenice and Dickens‘s Carker, draw on the fear of degeneracy— a threat to Western civilisation that coalesces in depictions of the vampiric mouth.

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