Charlotte Brontë and Victorian Psychology (Cambridge Studies by Sally Shuttleworth

By Sally Shuttleworth

This cutting edge and seriously acclaimed research effectively demanding situations the conventional view that Charlotte Brontë existed in a historic vacuum, via atmosphere her paintings firmly in the context of Victorian mental debate. in response to vast neighborhood study, utilizing texts starting from neighborhood newspaper reproduction to the clinical tomes within the Reverend Patrick Brontë's library, Sally Shuttleworth explores the interpenetration of financial, social, and mental discourse within the early and mid-nineteenth century, and strains the ways that Charlotte Brontë's texts function relating to this complicated, usually contradictory, discursive framework. Shuttleworth deals an in depth research of Brontë's fiction, educated by way of a brand new realizing of Victorian buildings of sexuality and madness, and the operations of scientific and mental surveillance.

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THE PENETRATING GAZE The preoccupation with the power of the penetrating gaze in Bronte's fiction is not peculiar to her writing but can be located historically within a wider field of literary and social concern. The rhetoric of the penetrating gaze seems to come into prominence in the decades of the 1780s and 90s across a whole network of disciplinary fields. Bichat, defining the premises of the newly emerging science of physiology, stated that the goals of anatomists would be attained 'when the opaque envelopes that cover our parts are no more for their practised eyes than a transparent veil revealing the whole and the relations between the parts'.

60 Her letters recording her illness of the winter 1851-2 possess an obsessive quality, as she works and reworks her own diagnosis of its causes. '61 Cutting across her own doctor's purely physiological diagnosis of a liver complaint, Bronte adopts the premises of alternative contemporary accounts of the body (and in particular the female body) which maintained a direct relation between the physiological and emotional: the lowering of animal spirits would affect the whole bodily economy. While resisting Dr Ruddock's physical control of her body, Bronte nonetheless subscribes to a theory of physiology which highlights the impossibility of mental self-control.

The emphasis on self-control so prevalent in the economic and psychological rhetoric of the time had its reflex in the ever-present fears of loss of control. Such fears, as the subsequent analysis will suggest, were complicated by issues of gender, for men and women were placed in very different relation to the doctrines of control. The following sections will consider in some detail the Victorian psychological context which frames Bronte's work. CHAPTER 3 Insanity and selfhood In the year of the publication of Villette, a writer in The Times offered the following observations on insanity: 'Nothing can be more slightly defined than the line of demarcation between sanity and insanity .

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