Carnegie Mellon University

The English Malady: Egendering Insanity in the Eighteenth Century

Author: Dana Gliserman

Degree: Ph.D. in Literary and Cultural Studies, Carnegie Mellon University, 2006

This dissertation, “The English Malady: Engendering Insanity in the Eighteenth Century,” focuses on the material and cultural history of madness as it takes shape in literary, medical, and legal texts.  While other scholars have read madness as either a literary trope or a system of knowledge and discipline, my project focuses instead on madness’ alliance with particular genres and the political concerns these writings address.  I argue that the eighteenth century sees the establishment of a certain kind of professional authority—both medical and legal—over the mad through a collocation of various forms of writing, including literary discourse broadly construed.   The seventeenth-century represented madness as either raving or melancholy.  The binary structure of melancholic and raving madness, popularized in Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy (1632) survived into the eighteenth century, despite the putative invention of psychiatry.  In the eighteenth century, melancholy comes to be characterized as domestic, female, implicated in novels of sensibility, and ultimately controllable.  Raving madness, on the other hand, is characterized as foreign, masculine, implicated in Gothic literature, and ultimately expatriated.  I argue that the eighteenth century sees the establishment of a professional, paternalistic, and ultimately patriarchal authority over the mad.  Representations of madness in the publications of legal transcripts, in the writings of mad-doctors, in novels, and in polemical pamphlets reveal the ways in which models of domesticity become mapped onto madness and its cures.

In the first chapter, I argue that in a rhetorical move to solidify authority over the mad, the legal system moves from an ontological to an epistemological understanding of madness.  With a growing distrust of the legibility of insanity and the reliability of lay testimony, the eighteenth century sees in the invention of a new verdict the construction of a new kind of professional authority in the form of medical expertise and the extension of judicial power.  Next, I examine the discourse surrounding the wrongful confinement of the sane. The trans-generic representation of wrongful confinement in madhouses—in novels, periodicals, and pamphlet literature, and also in legal and medical writings—brings to light fears that the structures of the domestic economy and family relations threatened women instead of protecting them. Another argument the project makes is that the eighteenth century witnessed a marked shift in the treatment of madness, from a protocol which emphasized the often painful and invasive use of surgery and pharmaceuticals to a model which stressed the provision of a controlled, but recognizably domestic environment for the patient.  The model of management—propagated both by mad-doctors’ writings and in novels—articulated well both with a culture which was increasingly perceiving the mad as victims in need of care instead of as brutes in need of punishment, and with the mad-doctors themselves, who were positioning themselves not only as the care-takers of the mad, but as the guarantors of the domestic economy.   Finally, I argue that mad-doctors’ writings act as a venue for articulating a model of madness—the English malady—as docile, domestic, and feminine. The articulation of the doctor/patient relationship as a corollary to the affective marital and familial relationships being established in this period, however, relies upon the complicity of patients.  The doctor needs the good opinion of his patient to make the relationship—and not merely the therapeutics—work.