Nerves and Narratives: A Cultural History of Hysteria in 19th-Century British Prose

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The British middle class of the early nineteenth century was defined by its nervous complaints—hysteria, hypochondria, vapours, melancholia, and other maladies. Peter Melville Logan explores the link between medical theories of nervous physiology and narrative issues central to the literary writing of the period. He examines the assumption, implicit in medical thinking at the time, that the nervous body—unlike its non-nervous counterpart—has a narrative inscribed on its nerve ...
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Overview


The British middle class of the early nineteenth century was defined by its nervous complaints—hysteria, hypochondria, vapours, melancholia, and other maladies. Peter Melville Logan explores the link between medical theories of nervous physiology and narrative issues central to the literary writing of the period. He examines the assumption, implicit in medical thinking at the time, that the nervous body—unlike its non-nervous counterpart—has a narrative inscribed on its nerve fibers. It becomes "the body with a story to tell."

Logan takes up several literary works whose nervous narrators connect their present disorder with an unnatural, unhealthy social order. Concentrating on novels by Godwin, Hays, and Edgeworth, and on De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Logan weaves cultural phenomena such as crowd psychology and attitudes toward opium addiction into the basic paradigm of the nervous narrative. He explains why these social critiques always tended to promote the same distempered civilization that brought them into being. He then looks at the emergence of the working-class body in the 1840s, changing medical theories, and George Eliot's treatment of medicine in Middlemarch.

Logan's book is especially valuable for its rethinking of disciplinary categories that separate medicine from literature and for bringing to light lesser-known literary texts. With a foreword by Roy Porter, it will be a welcome addition to literary, gender, and cultural studies.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520207752
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 5/30/1997
  • Pages: 241
  • Product dimensions: 5.97 (w) x 8.93 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author


Peter Melville Logan is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Alabama. Roy Porter is Professor in Social History of Medicine at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine.
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Table of Contents

Foreword
Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Introduction 1
1 The Narrative of Nervous Bodies in 1800: Thomas Trotter's A View of the Nervous Temperament 15
2 The Nervous Narrator's Paradox: William Godwin and Caleb Williams 45
3 Narrative and Self-Violence: Framing Mary Hays's Memoirs of Emma Courtney 59
4 Suspiria de Machina: De Quincey's Body and the Confessions of an English Opium-Eater 73
5 Harrington's Last Shudder: Maria Edgeworth and the Popular Fear of the Nervous Body 109
6 The Body in Need of Nerves: Working-Class Insensibility and Victorian Sanitation 143
7 The Story of the Story of the Body: Conceiving the Body in Middlemarch 166
Notes 197
Bibliography 229
Index 243
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