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“A Hideous torture on himself” Madness & Self-Mutilation in Victorian Literature. Sarah Chaney – s.chaney@ucl.ac.uk Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL International Health Humanities Conference 2010. The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850.

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a hideous torture on himself madness self mutilation in victorian literature

“A Hideous torture on himself”Madness & Self-Mutilation in Victorian Literature

Sarah Chaney – s.chaney@ucl.ac.uk

Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL

International Health Humanities Conference 2010

the scarlet letter nathaniel hawthorne 1850
The Scarlet LetterNathaniel Hawthorne, 1850
  • Dimmesdale’s ‘self-mutilation’: a course of penance
  • 19th century literature and psychological symbolism
  • The literary case study: a validation of ‘psychological medicine’
  • Psychology: a universal truth?
self mutilation and victorian psychiatry
Self-Mutilation and Victorian Psychiatry
  • New terminology: from self-injury to self-mutilation
  • The context: Bethlem Royal Hospital
  • Definitions, 1880-1900
  • A lack of historical research
  • Literary allegory & symbolic self-mutilation
the strange case in staffordshire isaac brooks 1882
The Strange Case In Staffordshire: Isaac Brooks, 1882

“The case of mutilation which is now exciting so much public interest.”

The Lancet, 14 Jan 1882

“There cannot be the slightest doubt in the mind of any one ... that the case was throughout one of self-mutilation from insanity.”

The Times, 13 Jan 1882

the case of isaac brooks journal of mental science 1882
“The Case of Isaac Brooks” Journal of Mental Science, 1882

“The man was single, and lived a very subjective life; he was just the type of man in whom all the evils of civilization seem to accumulate, great sensibility, with loss of power of control, an emotional but ill-ruled machine. A solitary man, thinking himself misunderstood and neglected, building castles in the air, finding the times out of joint, and from this idea conceiving that he has enemies and persecutors...”

“The man was single, and lived a very subjective life; he was just the type of man in whom all the evils of civilization seem to accumulate, great sensibility, with loss of power of control, an emotional but ill-ruled machine. A solitary man, thinking himself misunderstood and neglected, building castles in the air, finding the times out of joint, and from this idea conceiving that he has enemies and persecutors...”

arthur conan doyle 1859 1930 and self mutilation
Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) and Self-Mutilation
  • Background: Charles Altamont Doyle (1832-1893)
    • “Has been weak minded & nervous from his youth, and from his own account took refuge in alcoholics very early to give him courage &c.”
  • Nervous heredity
  • Nervous habits: the sliding scale of self-mutilation
doyle and the changing meaning of self mutilation
Doyle and the Changing Meaning of Self-Mutilation
  • Shock and intrigue in fiction: “mutilations which are worse than death.” (The Surgeon Talks)
  • The hereditary taint of madness (The Surgeon of Gaster Fell, 1890)
  • Neurological impulse and ‘the will’ (The Beryl Coronet, 1892)
  • Spiritualism, the self and the ‘hidden meaning’: theSociety for PsychicalResearch
conclusion
Conclusion
  • Self-mutilation literature part of the problematic debate over ‘the will’ and ‘the self’
  • Motivation implied individual responsibility, through lifestyle/character, eg. sexual or criminal stereotype
  • Self-mutilation seen as ‘morbid introspection’
  • Symbolic (political) nature of self-mutilation
    • Sarah Grand The Heavenly Twins (1893) and ‘new women’ literature
  • Self-mutilation represented as an act against society