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Edgar Allan Poe and Premature Burial

8 Nov

During the nineteenth century, there was widespread anxiety concerning the inability to distinguish between life and death. As a result of these fears, The London Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial was founded in 1896.[1]

The society took measures to prevent live burials such as attaching strings ‘to the fingers of the corpses…[which were] attached to bells’[2] and placing bodies in ‘waiting rooms’ to ensure that they were dead, a certainty only when the body exhibited signs of decomposition.

Conditions that confused the states of animation and death included catalepsy, trance and deep sleep. Catalepsy is defined as ‘an “exaggerated lethargy”…during which time no medical test could detect the vital spark.’[3] This condition is portrayed by Edgar Allan Poe in ‘The Premature Burial’ (1844), wherein Mademoiselle Victorine who ‘had been buried alive’ is subsequently ‘aroused by the caresses of her lover from the lethargy which had been mistaken for death.’[4]

In Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, Lady Madeline is enclosed alive within her coffin, the narrator relating

[w]e have put her living in the tomb!…I heard her first feeble movements in the hollow coffin.[1]

Upon breaking free from her coffin, Lady Madeline stands enshrouded with ‘blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame.’[2] Madeline’s bloody exertions and subsequent escape from her tomb incite horror since, rather than remaining a passive corpse, the Lady forcefully resists incarceration.


[1] E.A. Poe, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, in Tales of Mystery and Imagination (London: Everyman, 1993), pp.137-55, p.154

[2] Poe, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, pp.137-55, p.155

[3] Behlmer,Grave Doubts’, p. 206

[4] E.A. Poe, ‘The Premature Burial’, in Tales of Mystery and Imagination (London: Everyman, 1993), pp.290-303, p.292


[1] G.K. Behlmer,Grave Doubts: Victorian Medicine, Moral Panic, and the Signs of Death’, Journal of British Studies, 42 (2003) <http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&xri:pqil:res_ver=0.2&res_id=xri:lion&rft_id=xri:lion:ft:abell:R03565047:0> [accessed 16th May, 2008], p.206

[2] J. Stevens Curl, The Victorian Celebration of Death (London: David and Charles, 1972), p.177

Submission and the Queering of Gender in Pauline Réage’s Story of O

10 Oct

In her preface to A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory Nikki Sullivan addresses the difficulty of defining the term ‘queer’ as it ‘has historically been used in a number of different ways’.[1] One interpretation is that it denotes a deviation from a cultural norm. Within a patriarchal society gender is a binary vision of dominant masculinity and a submissive femininity that serves to provide a passive medium upon which the male subject can exercise his desires. Female emancipation can therefore be perceived as queer since perversion within male dominated society has ‘long been associated with women taking power’[2]. Owing to the emergence of feminism the contemporary gender balance has become increasingly equitable and, following their history of subjugation, women have now become enfranchised. To a modern readership female sexual submission is therefore queer owing to its embodiment and re-enactment of anachronistic patterns of gender relation. Consequently, Pauline Réage’s 1954 erotic classic Story of O can be termed queer owing to its depiction of regressive sexual practices of male domination and female submission: as Jeffreys notes, ‘S/M as a form of self-abuse [can be read]…as both the internalisation and the perpetuation of patriarchal violence.’[3]  However, it will be argued that whilst portraying sexual relationships which superficially depict male domination of a female object and ‘Other’, the novel proposes that a woman’s ostensible submission can in fact be a powerful form of resistance.

Through the establishment of a sadomasochistic subculture Pauline Réage’s male characters attempt to maintain the traditional gender binary, ensuring that the ‘dominant’ patriarchal agency remains unchallenged by the submissive ‘Other’. Through the enforcement of a strict disciplinary programme the men of Roissy attempt to eliminate the threat to their autonomy posed by female emancipation. Within the confines of the estate women exist only to serve the needs of a masculine agent and, due to their complete submission, the consummation of male desire is seemingly non-contingent:

he wanted her, right away, to unlock her knees and unfold her arms…she wasn’t opening her legs wide enough. The word open and the expression open your legs, when uttered by a lover would acquire in her mind such overtones of restiveness and of force that she never heard them without a kind of inward prostration, of sacred submission, as if they had emanated from a god, not from him.[4]

However, the project of Roissy extends beyond its walls, attempting to create an alternative masculinist culture within conventional society, as is evident in the manner of O’s dress following her departure:

[w]hat her lover wanted of her was simple: that she be constantly and immediately accessible…every obstacle had to be eliminated, and by her carriage and manner, in the first place, and in the second place by the clothing she wore, she would, as it were, signify her accessibility to those who knew what these signs implied.[5]

While the exact specification of dress is left to O’s discretion, the principle behind every aspect of her attire remains the unconditional fulfilment of masculine desire:

[a]s for her clothing, it was up to her to choose it and, if need be, to devise a costume which would render unnecessary that half-undressing he had submitted her to in the car while taking her to Roissy[6].

Gone were ‘all the slips she had whose upper part covered her breasts, all her blouses and dresses which didn’t open in front, any of her skirts which were too narrow to be raised instantly, with a single motion.’[7]

By reducing O to the status of a passive object with which to satisfy desire, sexual intercourse is transformed into an act of autoeroticism rather than a union between two volitional subjects. The men at Roissy enforce degradation upon O by branding, piercing and utilising her as a collection of orifices for the impersonal fulfilment of their desires. Consequently, O is no longer viewed as a single, integrated being who possesses free will but as a broken physical topography of discrete sections and surfaces. However, by deriving pleasure from sexual situations within which she is placed, rather than from a particular torturer, O mirrors the male usage of her physical form. While O’s torturers attempt to render her desires irrelevant, it is the enjoyment derived from her suffering that enables her to affirm each subsequent form of slavery to which she is subjected. Rather than forcing O to endure for their sexual gratification, the male characters instead become providers of the pleasure in pain that is the focus of O’s desire. O’s torture is therefore emancipating owing to her autoerotic enjoyment of her punishment, during which he who holds the whip is a mere facilitator of her pain.

Such irrelevance is exemplified by the anonymity and inter-changeability of the torturers. They are rendered arbitrary as ‘“[a]ll four had taken her and she had not been able to distinguish [René] from amongst the rest”’[8]. For the male subjects who attempt to form a stable identity through their domination of O, and accordingly through the coercion of her recognition, O’s indifference to the specificity of her torturer consequently poses a challenge to their autonomy:

[t]he effect we have on something or someone is a way of confirming our reality. If our acts have no effect on the other, or if the other refuses to recognize our act, we feel ourselves to be powerless.[9]

In this way, the master requires recognition from, and is therefore dependent upon, his slave as ‘[n]o subject can really extricate herself or himself from dependency on other subjects, from her or his need for recognition…she or he seeks autonomy by dominating the other person’[10]. The men who attempt to compel O’s recognition are destroyed, which concurs with Sartre’s formulation of Hegel’s master/slave dynamic as being a ‘deficiently actualized’[11] form of inter-subjectivity that is unable to engender true recognition…[and] the paradigm therefore becomes ultimately ‘self-subverting’[12].

Accordingly, O’s masochistic delight emphasises the failure of the masculine project of Roissy, which, while ostensibly striving for the physical satisfaction of male sexual desire, is in fact attempting to achieve a deeper form of intersubjective recognition. Because the sadist ‘requires evidence of others’ misery in order to feel pleasure in his own fortune, and is dependent on others for his status as master’[13], he is consequently lacking in autonomy. This causes a paradox in which the master becomes the slave owing to his dependence upon the person over whom he has domination. The slave consequently becomes the master:

[t]hough the sadist may consider himself or herself the cause of the masochist’s abject surrender, it is the masochist alone who determines the precise moment of complete submission.[14]

The sadist’s endeavour to appropriate another’s freedom fails when his victim chooses to be an object, as is demonstrated in O’s decision to be taken to Roissy and therein enslaved. Since she perceives herself from a subjective point of view and consequently is unable to be wholly objectified, O is ‘in Sartrean terms, a body and a consciousness in an independent situation’[15] which poses a threat to the male characters. Accordingly, when he takes her to Sir Stephen, René states ‘“[r]epeat it after me: “I belong to both of you, I will be what both of you want me to be”’.[16] While O is able to affirm that she will occupy the desired role of object, it is precisely owing to this consent, to this act of volition, that she will never provide the form of recognition which is required.

Accordingly, while O appears to have internalised patriarchal gender inequalities in justifying her submission through heterosexual love, by queering masochism the novel demonstrates that O’s submission subverts such a conception. When ‘devotion becomes masochistic, love becomes perverse’[17] and therefore ‘O’s idealistic attachment to René becomes displaced onto an erotic attachment to the performance of submission…rendering the persons who administer punishment increasingly peripheral.’[18] This is symptomatic of perceiving sadomasochism as a ‘deviation from the “normal” sexual aim that is heterosexual coitus and / or reproduction’[19], thereby creating ‘a sort of polymorphous perversity’[20] which enables the rethinking of ‘pleasure and / or sexuality in terms of one’s preference for “certain acts, certain zones and sensations.”’[21] Rather than yielding because she loves René, O instead chooses to submit because she derives pleasure from the pain. Krafft-Ebig’s study Psychopathia Sexualis describes how in masochism ‘“the individual affected, in sexual feelings and thought, is controlled by the idea of being completely and unconditionally subject to the will of a person of the opposite sex; and of being treated by this person as by a master, humiliated and abused.”’[22] As the novel depicts, O is not drawn to one particular master but rather to the idea of mastery, as is captured in the repeated changes of the individual who administers punishment. The fallacy of O’s justification for submission through heterosexual love is accordingly highlighted, while the interchangeability of masculine torturers demonstrates the power that a submissive holds over their master.

This seeming inconsistency between the locus of ostensible and actual power is most evident in the fact that Sir Stephen requires O’s consent. Like René, Sir Stephen requests of O that she obeys his every command, rendering the fulfilment of his desire contingent upon O’s choice. Sir Stephen therefore becomes dependent upon O as the ‘Other’ whose acquiescence enables him to performatively define the boundaries of his subjectivity. However, it is the absence of contingency towards which Sir Stephen and the project of Roissy aspire, and by depending upon the consent of O and the other submissives they are unable to achieve complete autonomy from the ‘Other’. This accords with Butler’s paraphrasing of Beauvoir that ‘[t]he radical dependency of the masculine subject on the female “Other” suddenly exposes his autonomy as illusory’[23]. The apotheosis is reached when Sir Stephen realises his love for O, exposing to himself the illusory nature of his autonomy. The moment that Sir Stephen is unable to deny O’s subjectivity, or his dependence upon her, he discards her rather than admit his contingency.

Unlike Sir Stephen, whose subjectivity is undermined by the contingency of his desires, O is affirmed by her intersubjective need for another. This is captured through the image of the vaginal ‘O’ which envelopes the ‘Other’, as opposed to the closed circles of patriarchy which resist intrusion, symbolising the taboo of the heterosexual male sphincter. Accordingly, Roissy is described as a ‘closed circle’[24] and O’s identity as a slave is symbolised by the ‘ring of iron and gold she wore on her left hand’[25] and the similar ring which pierces her labia, denoting coercive masculine ownership and the trapping or penetration of the female form. However, unlike women within conventional society whose genitalia denies them Sartrean subjecthood[26], O, through her submission, is able to convert the supposed void at the heart of her sex into a masochistic affirmation of her unique subjectivity. In being penetrated, and in using that penetration to formulate a submissive, performative identity, which includes and integrates the ‘Other’, O is able to achieve a stable and affirmative intersubjectivity. Therefore, while her very name, O, denotes emptiness, it also signifies pleasure and orgasm and through this, the possibility of achieving a performative identity for both herself and for the ‘Other’ who enters the void space. Unlike Sir Stephen, by admitting that there is an absence within her that only an ‘Other’ can fill, O is able to transcend desire into intersubjectivity[27], achieving the stable, fulfilling identity which the men of Roissy never acquire.

Therefore, rather than simply excluding the feminine, the male characters attempt to reconcile the contradiction of appropriating O’s submissive subjectivity while maintaining the closed circle of phallocentric discourse that refuses to recognise the possibility of female agency. This stands in contrast to the two main strands of feminist thought regarding the place of woman within patriarchal society, in which subjectivity is granted to the male and denied to the female, as Judith Butler summarises in Gender Trouble:

[for Beauvoir] women are the negative of men, the lack against which masculine identity differentiates itself; for Irigaray, that particular dialectic constitutes a system that excludes an entirely different economy of signification.[28]

Yet O’s achievement of a stable, integrated subjectivity through her performative submission – which is unavailable to the novel’s male characters – stands in contrast to both traditions. Unlike Beauvoir’s theorising of woman as negative and lack, and Irigaray’s positing of the closed, phallocentric signifying economy, it is precisely O’s presence, her intersubjective agency, which men attempt, and fail, to appropriate through the master/slave paradigm. Rather than absence or exclusion, for the men of Roissy, feminine flesh and submission is the constitutive material of their world, the point and purpose of their discussion, and the defining quality of a Domme’s performative identity. O’s very existence denies the closed phallocentric signifying economy, disproving the idea that personal identity is a product of masculine discourse.

Therefore, by asserting a queer sense of pleasure in submission, O achieves a performative identity which queers both feminist and patriarchal conventions of the possibility of female subjectivity. O’s acceptance of the void within her transforms desire into intersubjectivity and therefore she is able to reconcile the need for, and mediation of, the ‘Other’. This places her beyond the reach and understanding of conventional society, and accordingly she is unashamed when she is put on a leash and publicly displayed, leading guests to question whether she is human or instead ‘a thing of stone or wax’[29]. Owing to her queerness, O is ‘a creature of some other world’[30] in the sense that she transcends conventional gender boundaries, defeating both patriarchal and feminist strictures, and refusing to satisfy male desire, or to facilitate the achievement of the masculine conception of autonomy. By denying the absence within themselves, the male tormenters become the ‘O’, the nothingness, the void, vaginal space that is utilised in the sexual performance by which O constructs her identity. Unlike the failed existential project of Roissy, with its attempted enforcement of the Sartrean paradigm of subject/signifier object/signified[31], O achieves an authentic, and therefore queer, existence through the achievement of joy and transcendence in pain. The self-awareness and actualisation that she realises in masochism at Roissy allows O to define herself through her name, which, in enclosing a void space, and therefore allowing penetration, is thereby rendered complete and autonomous. Consequently, O is the ‘Other’, the illegible nothing who fails to accord with normative heterosexual or feminist definitions and as such forms a site of re-inscription of gender binaries. The terror that such emancipation would pose, both to masculinist and feminist orders, is symbolised in the novel’s alternative ending:

There existed another ending to the story of O. Seeing herself about to be left by Sir Stephen, she preferred to die. To which he gave his consent.[32]

It is human nature to destroy that which is feared, and to fear what is not understood, the queer and the transgressive.


[1] N. Sullivan, A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003) Preface v

[2] G. J. Rubinson, ‘On the Beach and Elsewhere’: Angela Carter’s Moral Pornography and the Critique of Gender Archetypes’ from C.L. Carlson, R.L. Mazzola and S.M. Bernado (eds.), Gender Reconstructions: Pornography and Perversions in Literature and Culture (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2002) p.131

[3] Sullivan, A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory, p.158

[4] P. Réage, Story of O (London: Transworld Publishers, 1972) pp.76-7

[5] ibid, p.77

[6] ibid, p.78

[7] Réage, Story of O, p.78

[8] ibid, p.19

[9] J. Benjamin, ‘The Bonds of Love: Rational Violence and Erotic Domination’, p.151

[10] ibid, p.150

[11] R. Williams, Hegel’s Ethics of Recognition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997) p.10

[12] ibid, p.10

[13] C.J. Dean, The Self and its Pleasures: Bataille, Lacan, and the History of the Decentred Subject (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1992) p.176

[14] D.R. Koukal, Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature Vol. 34 (2001) pp.111-26 Retrieved from LION at 16:14 15/03/07 http://lion.chadwyck.co.uk/searchFulltext.do?id=R01607276&divLevel=0&queryId=../session/1173888875-62&trailId=110B6BBF249&area=abell&forward=critref-ft

[15] Koukal, Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature

[16] Réage, Story of O, p.101

[17] J.K. Noyes, The Mastery of Submission: Inventions of Masochism (Cornell University Press, 1997) American Council of Learned Societies History E-Book Project Retrieved at 13:45 14/03/2007 http://ets.umdl.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=acls;;idno=heb02148, p.43

[18] ibid, p.44

[19] Sullivan, A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory, p.151

[20] ibid, p.151

[21] Sullivan, A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory, p.156

[22] Noyes, The Mastery of Submission: Inventions of Masochism, p.6, quotation from R von Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis: A Medico-Forensic Study (New York: Pioneer, 1994) p.131

[23] J. Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London: Routledge, 1999) Preface pp.xxvii-i

[24] Réage, Story of O, p.103

[25] ibid, p.163

[26] Butler, Gender Trouble, pp.xxvii-xxviii

[27] Williams, Ethics of Recognition, pp.49-50

[28] Butler, Gender Trouble, p.14

[29] Réage, Story of O, p.261

[30] ibid, p.261

[31] Butler, Gender Trouble, pp.xxvii-xxviii

[32] Réage, Story of O, p.262

Hysteria in the Victorian Novel

17 Aug

In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir writes that the hysteric reveals herself through her body’s uncontrollability, expressing her ambivalent position within patriarchal society:

the woman denies responsibility [for her body]; in sobs, vomiting, convulsions. It escapes her control, it betrays her; it is her most intimate verity, but it is a shameful verity that she keeps hidden. And yet it is also her glorious double; she is dazzled in beholding it in the mirror; it is promised happiness, work of art, living statue; she shapes it, adorns it, puts it on show.[1]

However, Victorian hegemony refused to acknowledge any positive aspect of the condition, instead emphasising only its shameful connotations. This bias originated from the dominant ontology of Cartesian dualism, which posited a mind/body division that gendered the intellect as masculine and bodily urges as feminine. Hysteria was thus regarded as the feminine escaping masculine control. As will be argued, since the masculine ‘universal signifying order’[2] of symbolic language posited ontological possibilities, the hegemonic order was thus able to exclude alternative forms of female being. Central to such a strategy was the medical profession’s enforcement of a Cartesian theory in which the distinct mind and body were gendered in order to maintain the notion of hysteria as a feminine source of shame. However, the psychosomatic nature of hysterical symptoms destabilised masculine Cartesian dualism and thus threatened one of the foundations upon which the hegemonic order rested.

This nineteenth century Cartesian interpretation of hysteria is portrayed by Charlotte Brontë through Lucy Snowe’s internalisation of patriarchal ideology. By accepting the theory of a division between ‘Spirit and Substance’[3] Lucy is indoctrinated to perceive them as ‘divorced mates…[which] were hard to re-unite: they greeted each other, not in an embrace, but a racking sort of struggle.’[4] Lucy has therefore internalised the separation between mind and body that was established to promote values of masculine rationality over feminine, bodily drives.

Such internalisation, however, while suppressing hysterical expression and ostensibly leaving masculine society undisturbed, merely contains rather than removes the hysterical threat. When confronted with emotional stress Lucy Snowe separates her ‘masculine’ rational faculties from her ‘female’ emotional chora:

Feeling and I turned Reason out of doors, drew against her bar and bolt…Reason would leap in, vigorous and revengeful.[5]

However, such a division results in only a temporary controlling of ‘Feeling’ as Lucy’s emotional angst still remains beneath her ostensibly calm exterior, becoming vicariously expressed. Her wish that Polly ‘would utter some hysterical cry, so that [she] might get relief and be at ease’[6] is granted when Polly does drop ‘on her knees at a chair with a cry’[7] and Lucy is suffused with calm. Such relief, however, is only temporary, and while Lucy exhibits no hysterical behaviour and therefore poses no threat to the fabric of masculine society, the transgressive potential remains.

While such a mind/ body division allows Lucy Snowe to resist hysterical expression and thus pose no challenge to the masculine order, the psychosomatic nature of hysteria destabilises the Cartesian binary that attempts to control it:

[t]he body of a woman …is a “hysterical” body, in the sense that there is, so to speak, no distance between the psychic life and its physiological realization[8].

Through reintegrating the mind and body into a single ontological, psychosomatic verity, hysteria undermines the masculine Cartesian project that provided a justification for the subjugation of women. Rather than utilising the symbolic, verbal, masculine language of reason, hysteria instead expresses itself via the pre-symbolic chora of the body to articulate female experience within patriarchal society. This is exemplified in Bronfen’s description of Bertha Mason:

[her] preternatural laugh, her eccentric murmurs, her threatening “snarling, snatching sound”, in fact recall Kristeva’s concept of the “semiotic chora”. For her husband she is all that lies below acceptable femininity, the feminine body as dangerous Other to man[9].

Despite destabilising the founding binary of the masculine order through its psychosomatic symptoms, hysteria was inadvertently encouraged by the patriarchal empiricist focus of medicalisation. While the physician recognised an increasing variety of physical symptoms they were less inclined to accept the veracity of purely mental phenomena owing to the difficulty of their measurement, quantification and authentication. Consequently, this created a culture in which women suffering from mental anxiety were forced to invent or disproportionately emphasise physical symptoms in order for their distress to be acknowledged. This is portrayed in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice wherein Mrs Bennet calls attention to the physical aspects of her emotional discomfort in order for her turmoil to be validated:

“I am frightened out of my wits; and have such tremblings, such flutterings, all over me, such spasms in my side, and pains in my head, and such beatings at heart, that I can get no rest by night nor by day.”[10]

Such intertwining of the mental and physical was a source of concern for the patriarchal order, as is depicted in contemporary newspaper articles, one reader of the Times noting:

the “tendency of women to morally warp when nervously ill,” and of the terrible physical havoc which the pangs of a disappointed love may work[11].Therefore, while hysterics were encouraged to express their ontological angst in the form of physical symptoms, the hegemonic order was increasingly preoccupied with hysteria’s destabilisation of the empiricist, medical organisation through the transformation of the purely physical into the psychosomatic.

However, the destabilisation of the mind/body binary also impacts upon the hysteric as rather than externally expelling drives using masculine signifying discourse, psychological states are expressed through the medium of the body. As Kristeva noted, language is a defensive construction which provides a means of channelling urges, in particular the death drive, outwith the body:

[language] protects the body from the attack of drives by making it a place…in which the body can signify itself through positions…language, in the service of the death drive, is a pocket of narcissism towards which this drive may be directed[12].

Therefore, hysterical communication that undermines Cartesian dualism by expressing mental affliction through the medium of the body potentially results in self-destructive behaviour:

the daughter who succumbed to hysteria typically turned her rage against herself in a kind of masochistic biting of her own tongue instead of using it aggressively against the other and silently mimed in her body the script that had entrapped her.[13]

As both subject and object, the body of the hysteric becomes the site of signification and is thus damaged by the violent communicative urges that result from coercion.

For patriarchal society the ultimate form of hysterical psychosomatic expression was menstruation and the challenge that it posed to the hegemonic order. The existence of menstruation provided patriarchy with an excuse for increased stricture, which in turn increased female need for transgressive hysterical expression, further undermining masculine control. The self-perpetuating nature of such a cycle is illustrated in Jane Eyre wherein a convulsive, hysterical fit of ‘wild struggling…is aggravated by attempts at restraint’[14]. For Jane, coercion and the threat of being ‘“tied down”’[15] promotes a hysterical reaction and ‘a species of fit’. The pervasive and nightmarish red of the room that is the site of Jane’s first hysterical experience prefigures her explosion of passion when ‘something spoke out of [her] over which [she] had no control.’[16] Since she tells Bessie that she will ‘“never leave Gateshead till [she is] a woman”’[17], Jane’s sudden departure from her aunt’s house shortly after her outburst indicates the commencement of menstruation, supporting Laycock’s argument that the ‘first appearance of this secretion is almost always accompanied by symptoms of hysteria”’[18]. Like insanity, menstruation ‘was seen as a physiological marker of social disruption’[19] and since it existed beyond masculine control was linked with both the chora and hysteria, characterised as an ‘[i]nner excess and uncontrollable flow [which] gives rise to outward symptoms of disorder’[20].

This association of hysteria with menstruation and the female reproductive system is additionally represented in masculine attitudes to pregnancy and childbirth and their potential destabilisation of the Cartesian binary. According to Fielding Blandford:

[w]omen become insane during pregnancy, after parturition, during lactation; at the age when the catamenia [menses] first appear and when they disappear….The sympathetic connection existing between the brain and the uterus is plainly seen by the most causal observer.[21]

The admission of a connection between the physical process of childbirth and the nebulous mental phenomena of hysteria, in particular during ‘the six week puerperal period [that] marked the time within which insanity of child-birth could develop’[22] created further dissonance within the founding myth of the hegemonic order. As the protagonist of Lady Audley’s Secret states, she suffered from puerperal mania after ‘“[her] baby was born, and the crisis which had been fatal to [her] mother arose for [her].”’[23] While the novel hints at hereditary, organic origins for the condition, the confusion of precepts which were caused by the psychosomatic nature of hysteria is illustrated by the fact that ‘[p]uerperal insanity was broadly depicted as a category of moral, usually temporary, insanity’[24] and hence partially a mental phenomena rather than a purely physical form of pathology.

The psychosomatic nature of puerperal insanity also weakened other patriarchal principles, undermining theories of the inherent qualities of motherhood, domesticity and the urge to nurture. Since women were masculinity’s Other, destabilisation of femininity against which the patriarchal order defined itself accordingly undermined the certainty of hegemonic form. Therefore, ‘[c]ases of puerperal insanity seemed to violate all of Victorian culture’s most deeply cherished ideals of feminine propriety and maternal love…[and] their deviance covered a wide spectrum from eccentricity to infanticide.’[25] By associating infanticide with various forms of hysterical, post-natal mania, the hegemonic order created a culture in which it was believed that during the throws of hysteria ‘the mother became “forgetful of her child”, or expressed murderous intent toward the infant’[26].

This perceived connection between infanticide and puerperal hysteria is explored in Eliot’s Adam Bede wherein Hetty Sorrel is imprisoned ‘“[f]or a great crime – the murder of her child”’[27], claiming that she ‘“seemed to hate it – it was like a heavy weight hanging round [her] neck”’[28]. Bram Stoker’s Dracula also portrays infanticide in a reversed maternal image wherein rather than an infant feeding from its mother’s breast milk, Jonathon Harker hears ‘a gasp and a low wail, as of a half-smothered child’[29] as female vampires consume an infant’s blood. Therefore, contrary to the nurturing female body of Victorian ideology the hysteric is non-productive, devouring blood instead of producing milk. The vampires are the anti-mothers of patriarchal propaganda, consuming baby’s blood in order to feed themselves rather than supplying milk to nourish the child as the living dead feed on the newly born.

Therefore, this connection between puerperal mania and inverted motherhood provided the hegemonic order with a means of projecting hysteria upon its Other. As Sally Shuttleworth notes, during the Victorian era:

theories of mental degeneration and inherited brain disease came to the fore. In the post-Darwinian period, Henry Maudsley and others emphasised the inherited qualities of brain disease.[30]

Accordingly, responsibility for the hereditary transmission and existence of hysteria was displaced onto transgressive women. As it was believed that ‘insanity descends more often from the mother than the father, and from the mother to the daughters more often than to the sons’[31], rather than being the product of a failure in medical intelligibility hysteria was instead blamed upon female frailty.

The hereditable character of hysteria is portrayed by the eponymous protagonist of Lady Audley’s Secret who states that ‘“the only inheritance I had to expect from my mother was–insanity!”’[32]. However, through its depiction of Lady Audley the novel also reveals the fundamentally unscientific nature of contemporary views concerning hysterical heredity. For the protagonist, her mother’s hysteria provides both an excuse and a justification for socially transgressive, homicidal behaviour:

“[t]he hereditary taint…was in my blood…at this time I became subject to fits of violence and despair. At this time I think my mind first lost its balance, and for the first time I crossed that invisible line which separates reason from madness.”[33]

The novel therefore fails to indicate whether Lady Audley becomes hysterical because of a heredity over which she has no control, or that she makes little attempt to control her actions since masculine assumptions of hysterical inheritance provide an excuse for her behaviour. There is therefore an inherent subtext to Lady Audley’s hysterical communication with which the prejudiced hegemonic order is unable to engage. Similarly, Bertha Mason Rochester also supposedly suffers from the taint of hereditary insanity:

“[m]y bride’s mother I had never seen: I understood she was dead. The honey-moon over, I learned my mistake; she was only mad, and shut up in a lunatic asylum.”[34]

Mr Rochester’s altered behaviour towards his bride is owing to this revelation. It is only after the marriage that ‘“the doctors now discovered that [his] wife was mad – her excesses had prematurely developed the germs of insanity”’[35]. As is the case with Lady Audley, the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling and any other possible meaning that could be conveyed by hysterical communication is accordingly ignored. For the masculine order such self-perpetuation served to maintain the prejudice that underlay the assumptions of such theorists as Henry Maudsley. The fact that a correlation between hysteria and heredity could not prove direction or cause, or disprove the existence of wider social factors, was therefore disregard.

Accordingly, while the masculine order was aware of hysteria, there was no attempt to understand its meaning and hysterical language was interpreted in a manner that ensured maintenance of patriarchal dominance. By promoting a gendered Cartesian binary and diagnosing hysteria as a hereditary transmission, the hegemonic order attempted to control the condition and use its existence to justify masculine superiority and the need for medicalisation. However, due to the amorphous nature of hysteria and the psychosomatic quality of its symptoms, the condition undermined the masculine precepts of control. In doing so, hysteria not only challenged the fundamental binary of gender itself but also questioned the conceptions of inherent masculinity, femininity and the entire epistemological project of Victorian society.

 

Copyright © 2011 Victoria Fairclough


[1] S. de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, ed. by H.M. Parshley (London: Pan Books, 1988), p.630

[2] J. Kristeva, ‘Revolution in Poetic Language’, in T. Moi, ed., The Kristeva Reader: Julia Kristeva (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), p.113

[3] C. Brontë, Villette (London: Penguin Books, 2004), chapter 16

[4] ibid, chapter 16

[5] ibid, chapter 23

[6] ibid, chapter 2

[7] Brontë, Villette, chapter 3

[8] Beauvoir, The Second Sex, p.356

[9] E. Bronfen, Over her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992), p.221

[10] J. Austen, Pride and Prejudice in, The Complete Novels of Jane Austen (London: The Penguin Group, 1996), chapter 47

[11] Letter on Militant Hysteria – The Times, March 28, 1912 in, Sir A.E. Wright, The Unexpurgated Case Against Women Suffrage (London: Constable and Company, 1913), appendix, p.77

[12] Kristeva, ‘Revolution in Poetic Language’, p.103

[13] C. Kahane, Hysteria, Narrative, and the Figure of the Speaking Woman 1850-1915 (London: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1995), p.37

[14] F.M.R. Walshe, Diseases of the Nervous System, 2nd edn (Edinburgh: E. & S. Livingstone, 1941), p.106

[15] C. Brontë, Jane Eyre (London: Penguin Books, 1996), I, chapter 2

[16] ibid, I, chapter 4

[17] ibid, I, chapter 3

[18] T. Laycock, An Essay on Hysteria, (Philadelphia: Haswell Barrrington Haswell, 1840), p.69 in, S. Shuttleworth, Charlotte Brontë and Victorian Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p.78

[19] ibid, p78

[20] ibid, p.78

[21] G. Fielding Blandford, Insanity and its Treatment (Philadelphia: Henry C. Lea, 1871), p.69 in, E. Showalter, The Female Malady (London: Virago Press, 2004), pp.56-7

[22] H. Morland, ‘At Home with Puerperal Mania: the Domestic Treatment of the Insanity of Childbirth in the Nineteenth Century’ in, P. Bartlett and D. Wright, eds, Outside the Walls of the Asylum: The History of Care In the Community 1750-2000 (London: The Athlone Press, 1999), p.50

[23] M.E. Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), III, chapter 3

[24] I. Loudon, ‘Puerperal Insanity in the Nineteenth Century’, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 81 (1988), pp.76-9 in, H. Morland, ‘At Home with Puerperal Mania: the Domestic Treatment of the Insanity of Childbirth in the Nineteenth Century’ in, P. Bartlett and D. Wright, eds, Outside the Walls of the Asylum: The History of Care In the Community 1750-2000 (London: The Athlone Press, 1999), p.48

[25] E. Showalter, The Female Malady (London: Virago Press, 2004), p.58

[26] Morland, ‘At Home with Puerperal Mania’, p.48

[27] G. Eliot, Adam Bede (London: The Penguin Group, 1985), chapter 39

[28] ibid, chapter 45

[29] B. Stoker, Dracula (London: Penguin Books, 1994), p.53

[30] Shuttleworth, Charlotte Brontë and Victorian Psychology, pp.34-5

[31] H. Maudsley, The Physiology and Pathology of the Mind (London: Macmillan, 1867), p.216

[32] Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret, II, chapter 3

[33] ibid, II, chapter 3

[34] Brontë, Jane Eyre, III, chapter 1

[35] ibid, III, chapter 1

Nineteenth Century Periodical Articles on Corsetry

9 Aug

‘Thompson’s Glove-Fitting Corset’, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine (London, England), issue 37, 1st Jan, 1868, p.18

‘Thompson’s Glove-Fitting Corset’, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine (London, England), issue 37, 1st Jan, 1868, p.18

‘The Crinoline Controversy’, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine (London, England), issue 42, 1st June, 1868

‘The Corset Question’, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine (London, England), issue 66 and 3, 1st June, 1870, p.377

‘A New Corset’, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine (London, England), issue 99, 1st March, 1873

‘”The Human Form Divine”’, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine (London, England), issue 21, 1st Sept, 1866, p.273

‘The Invigorator Corset’, Hearth and Home: An Illustrated Weekly Journal for Gentlewomen (London, England), issue 21, 8th Oct, 1891

‘The “Double Grip” Corset’, Hearth and Home: An Illustrated Weekly Journal for Gentlewomen (London, England), issue 61, 14th July, 1892

‘The Lancet Gives a Somewhat Ponderous Beison to the New Anti-Corset League, which is to Convert the Women with a “Waist” from the Error of her Way, and misguided Masculine Admirers of a…Figure to a Preference for Bolster-Like Proportions’, Hearth and Home: An Illustrated Weekly Journal for Gentlewomen (London, England), issue 176, 27th Sept, 1894

‘Unconscious Tight-Lacing’, Hearth and Home: An Illustrated Weekly Journal for Gentlewomen (London, England), issue 144, 15th February, 1894

‘Tight Lacing’, The Ladies’ Treasury (London, England), 1st October, 1803

‘Tight Lacing’, The Ladies’ Treasury (London, England), 1st March, 1866, p.175

‘The Wasp Waist’, The Ladies’ Treasury (London, England) 1st Nov, 1869, p.71

‘Death by Inches’, Moonshine (London, England), nov 5th 1887 – funny poem about tight lacing

‘Ella Had a Little Waist’ Fun (London, England) 5th June 1889 p.241 issue 1256 little poem about starvation and corsets

‘Waist – and Want Not’, Judy: The Conservative Comic (L:E) 18th June, 1890

‘Waist not, want not’ Funny Folks (L:E)22 April, 1882, issue 386

‘The Waist’, Hearth and Home (L:E) 8th Sept 1892 p.561 issue 69

‘it is very certain that beauty, as well as the apparent size of a waist depends far more on its shape than on its dimensions’ Le Follet: Journal du Grand Monde, Fashion, Polite Literature, Beaux Arts &c. &c. (London, England) 1st Sept 1894 issue 577

‘The Waist Question’, Hearth and Home (London: England) 13th August 1896 issue 274

‘Tight Lacing’, Cleave’s Gazette of Variety and Amusement (L:E) 15th June, 1839 issue 36

‘Tight Lacing’, Cleave’s Gazette of Variety and Amusement (L:E)21 Nov, 1840 iss 6 and 164

‘Tight-lacing’, The Lady’s Newspaper (L:e)4 Aug 1849, issue 136

‘Aphorisms upon tight-lacing’, Punch (L,E) 4th July 1857   tight lacing and intellect again

‘The Torments of Tight-Lacing’ Punch (L:E)23 Oct 1869

‘The Anti-Corset League’ The Pall Mall Gazette (L:E) 4th Dec 1894, issue 9266

‘Tight-Lacing’ The Hull Packet and Humber Mercury (Hull, England) 28th July, 1829, issue 2332

‘Tight Lacing’ Manchester Times (Manchester, England) issue 100 17th Oct, 1849

‘Fashion and Vanity-Effects of Tight-Lacing’ Glasgow Herald (Glasgow, Scotland) issue 5720 4th Feb 1857

Books I love (Mostly Fiction)

8 Aug

Austen, J., Catherine and Other Writings

Austen, J., Emma

Austen, J., Mansfield Park

Austen, J., Northanger Abbey

Austen, J., Pride and Prejudice

Austen, J., Persuasion

Austen, J., Sense and Sensibility

Austen / Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Beeton, I., Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management

Braddon, M.E., Lady Audley’s Secret

Brontë, C., Jane Eyre

Brontë, C., Shirley

Brontë, C., Tales of Angria

Brontë, C., The Foundling

Brontë, C., The Green Dwarf

Brontë, C., The Professor

Brontë, C., The Secret

Brontë, C., The Spell

Brontë, C., Villette

Brontë, E., Wuthering Heights

Brontës, Selected Letters

Browning, Aurora Leigh

Burke, E., Reflections on the Revolution in France

Carroll, L., Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland / Alice Through the Looking Glass

Carter, A., The Bloody Chamber

Chaucer, G., The Canterbury Tales

Cleland, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

Corelli, M., The Sorrows of Satan

Dickens, C., Great Expectations

Dickens, C., Little Dorrit

Dickens, C., The Old Curiosity Shop

Eliot, G., Adam Bede

Eliot, G., Middlemarch

Eliot, G., The Mill on the Floss

Fielding, H., Bridget Jones

Fielding, H., Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Gaader, J., Sophie’s World

Gaskell, E., Cranford

Gaskell, E., Gothic Tales

Gaskell, E., Mary Barton

Gaskell, E., Ruth

Gaskell, E., Sylvia’s Lovers

Gaskell, E., Wives and Daughters

Gibbons, S., Cold Comfort Farm

Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories

Grand, S., The Heavenly Twins

Grimm, Brothers, Complete Fairy Tales

Hall, R., The Well of Loneliness

Hardy, T., A Pair of Blue Eyes

Hardy, T., Far From the Madding Crowd

Hardy, T., Jude the Obscure

Hardy, T., Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Hardy, T., The Mayor of Casterbridge

Hardy, T., The Return of the Native

Hardy, T., The Well-Beloved

Hugo, V., Les Miserables

Ishiguro, K., The Remains of the Day

Leroux, G., The Phantom of the Opera

Lewis, M., The Monk

Lovecraft, H.P., The Call of Chthulhu

Lovecraft, H.P., The Dunwich Horror

McEwan, Atonement

Milton, Paradise Lost

Morris, News from Nowhere and Other Writings

Ovid, Metamorphosis

Plath, S., The Bell Jar

Poe, E.A., ‘Berenice’

Poe, E.A., ‘Ligeia’

Poe, E.A., ‘Morella’

Poe, E.A., ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’

Poe, E.A., ‘The Oval Portrait’

Poe, E.A., ‘The Premature Burial’

Radcliffe, A., A Sicilian Romance

Radcliffe, A., The Mysteries of Udolpho

Rhys, J., Wide Sargasso Sea

Richardson, S., Pamela

Rossetti, C., ‘The Goblin Market’

Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows

Schlink, The Reader

Schreiner, O., The Story of an African Farm

Shelley, M., Frankenstein

Stevenson, R.L., Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Stoker, B., Dracula

Styron, W., Sophie’s Choice

Swift, G., Waterland

Swift, Gulliver’s Travels

Tennant, E., The French Dancer’s Bastard: The Story of Adele from Jane Eyre

Tolkein, J.R.R., The Lord of the Rings

Tolkein, J.R.R., The Hobbit

Thackeray, W., Vanity Fair

Walpole, The Castle of Otranto

Waters, S., Affinity

Waters, S., Fingersmith

Waters, S., Tipping the Velvet

Waters, S., The Little Stranger

Waters, S., The Night Watch

Wilde, O., The Picture of Dorian Gray

Wollstonecraft/Shelley, Mary and Maria/Matilda

Woolf, V., Orlando

Literary Quotations

8 Aug

Wuthering Heights

The thing that irks me most is this shattered prison

I’ll try to break their hearts by breaking my own

Where is she? Not there – not in heaven – not perished – where? …Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is inutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!

I’m tired, tired of being enclosed here. I’m wearying to escape into that glorious world, and to be always there

What were the use of my creation if I were entirely contained here?

Surely you and every body have a notion that there is, or should be, an existence of yours beyond you

Be off, or I’ll hurt you seriously! I’ll have you all modelled in wax and clay

Cathy was there, not under [him], but on the earth

Heaven would be a land of exile to her, unless, with her mortal body, she cast away her moral character also

Miss is dreadfully wayward, sir!…you’d better be riding home, or else she will be sick, only to grieve us

If I were only sure it would kill him…I’d kill myself directly!

Jane Eyre

Reader, I married him

All said I was wicked, and perhaps I might be so; what thought had I been but just conceiving of starving myself to death?

What a mouth! And what large prominent teeth!

It had opened the doors of the soul’s cell, and loosed its bands – it had wakened it out of its sleep, whence it sprang trembling, listening, aghast

Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation: the spirit, I trust, is willing, but the flesh, I see, is weak

My spirit…is willing to do what is right; and my flesh, I hope, is strong enough to accomplish the will of Heaven

You need not look in that way…if you do, I’ll wear nothing but my old Lowood frocks to the end of the chapter. I’ll be married in this lilac gingham

The strange little figure there gazing at me, with a white face and arms specking the gloom, and glittering eyes of fear moving where all else was still, had the effect of a real spirit

You strange – you almost unearthly thing! – I love as my own flesh

If I dared, I’d touch you, to see if you are substance or shadow, you elf!

I am not an angel…you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me – for you will not get it

I felt it a misfortune that I was so little, so pale, and had features so irregular and so marked

Why did they send me so far and so lonely, Up where the moors spread and grey rocks are piled?

Whatever I do with its cage, I cannot get at it – the savage , beautiful creature! If I tear, if I rent the slight prison, my outrage will only let the captive loose

Conqueror I might be of the house; but the inmate would escape to heaven before I could call myself possessor of its clay dwelling-place

Villette

They wrote HELL on her straight, haughty brow. They turned her voice to the note of torment. They writhed her regal face to a demoniac mask. Hate and Murder and Madness incarnate, she stood

A want of companionship maintained in my soul the cravings of a most deadly famine

Girls – such as me and Miss Snowe – don’t need treats, but he would like it

Better, perhaps, to die quickly a pleasant death, than drag on long a charmless life

I was commanded to eat…M. Paul superintended my repast, and almost forced upon me more than I could swallow

Shirley

The mind, having no pleasant food to nourish it, no manna of hope, no hived-honey of joyous memories, tries to live on the meagre diet of wishes

Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife

They have none of them much to recommend them…they are all silly and ignorant like other girls

Mary wished to say something sensible, but knew not how

Mr Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien…and the report…of his having ten thousand a year

He was discovered to be proud, to be above his company and above being pleased

I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men

There is one great difference between us. Compliments always take you by surprise, and me never

Bingley was sure of being liked wherever he appeared; Darcy was continually giving offence

I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine

Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us

In nine cases ouf of ten, a woman had better show more affection than she feels

When she is secure of him, there will be leisure for falling in love as much as she chooses

I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the pretty face of a woman can bestow

You had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night…

Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can

Where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation

My good opinion once lost is lost forever

The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it

Snow White

There she lay, so beautiful that he could not turn his eyes away; and he stooped down and gave her a kiss little briar rose

Let me have it as a gift, for I cannot live without seeing Snow White. I will honour and prize her as my dearest possession

There she lay, so beautiful that he could not turn his eyes away; and he stooped down and gave her a kiss

She stretched out her hand and took the poisonous half. But hardly had she a bit of it in her mouth than she fell down dead

Fall of the House of Usher

We have put her living in the tomb!…I heard her first feeble movements in the hollow coffin. I heard them – many, many days ago – yet I dared not – I dared not speak!

Ligea

The colour disappeared from both eyelid and cheek, leaving a wanness even more than that of marble; the lips became doubly shrivelled and pinched up in the ghastly expression of death

Jude the Obscure

So would she be to him a kindly star, an elevating power, a companion in Anglican worship, a tender friend

I think she ought to be smacked, and brought to her senses—that’s what I think!

I have been thinking…that the social moulds civilization fits us into have no more relation to our actual shapes than the conventional shapes of the constellations have to the real star-patterns

Middlemarch

Her mind was theoretic, and yearned by its nature after some lofty conception of the world

She spoke with more energy than is expected of so young a lady

Mrs Lemon’s school, the chief school in the county, where the teaching included all that was demanded in the accomplished female – even to extras, such as the getting in and out of a carriage

An accomplished woman almost always knows more than we men, though her knowledge is of a different sort

I cannot let young ladies meddle with my documents, Young ladies are too flighty

A woman should be able to sit down and play you or sing you a good old English tune

Sane people did what their neighbours did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them

Alice in Wonderland

“I know something interesting is sure to happen,” she said to herself, “whenever I eat or drink anything; so I’ll just see what this bottle does”

“If I eat one of these cakes,” she thought, “it’s sure to make some change in my size”

She took down a jar…as she passed: it was labelled “ORANGE MARMALADE”, but to her great disappointment it was empty

Little girls eat eggs quite as much as serpents do, you know

Cherry tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast

She had never forgotten that if you drink much from a bottle marked “poison”, it was almost certain to disagree with you

On Corsets

Many of my young lady customers say they really like the sensation produced, and two at least of our assistants have pulled in far smaller than the size we have to insist upon for business hours (1896)

Small by degrees and beautifully less (1868)

I’m dying to get mar—I mean, to please the gentlemen, why you see of course I must lace in my waist a bit, though it makes me feel quite faint at times (1863)

The waist is an infallible index to the moral worth of a woman; very little of the latter survives the pressure of a tightened corset (Sarah Grand)

Whenever you see a small waist, think how much health is wasted (1848)

Fashion without folly, and elegance without extravagance – Anti Corset League Motto

Bent spines and reddened noses…headache, giddiness and fainting fits’ themselves become ‘fashionable ailments – Illnesses that accompany tight-lacing

A narrowness of waist betrays a narrowness of mind. When the ribs are contracted, it is a sure sign that the intellect is also (Punch, 1847)

ELLA had a little waist,

She could eat no dinner,

For she was so tightly laced,

Space was not within her (1889)

My maid has the impertinence to follow the new fashion, and is getting quite unfit for work through her tight-lacing (1869)

Several of our tightest-lacing customers say that they can be laced in most easily when standing with their arms lifted up above their heads. As you know, such a position contracts the waist quite noticeable. Others lie either on the bed or floor whilst their maid tightens them in to the required extent (1896)

Many of my young lady customers say they really like the sensation produced, and two at least of our assistants have pulled in far smaller than the size we have to insist upon for business hours (1896)

And the sensation, when one is used to it…is not unpleasant. I find an 18-inch corset quite comfortable, though I am stouter than I used to be, and always wear 17-inch ones for bals, on fète days, and such occasions. I have slept in corsets for years, and many of my customers do also. To do so preserves the smallness of the figure (1896)

Florence Nightingale

Give us back our suffering, we cry to Heaven in our hearts — suffering rather than indifferentism; for out of nothing comes nothing. But out of suffering may come the cure

And what is it to be “read aloud to”? The most miserable exercise of the human intellect

We fast mentally, scourge ourselves morally, use the intellectual hair-shirt, in order to subdue that perpetual day-dreaming, which is so dangerous!


Select PhD Bibliography: Nineteenth Century, Women, Food, Hysteria (Criticism and Theory)

8 Aug

Adburgham, Alison, Shops and Shopping 1800-1914: Where, and in what Manner the Well-Dressed Englishwoman Bought her Clothes (London: George Allan and Unwin, 1989)

Adburgham, Alison, Shopping in Style: London from the Restoration to Edwardian Elegance (London: Thames and Hudson, 1979)

Adler, K. and M. Pointon, The Body Imaged: The Human Form and Visual Culture Since the Renaissance (Cambridge University Press, 1993)

Alexander, C., The Early Writings of Charlotte Bronte (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983)

Archimedes, S.M., Gendered Pathologies: The Female Body and Biomedical Discourse in the Nineteenth-Century English Novel (London: Routledge, 2005)

Auberbach, N., Women and the Demon: the Life of the Victorian Myth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982)

Barber, P., Vampires, Burial and Death. Folklore and Reality (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988)

Beauvoir, S. de, The Second Sex, ed. by H.M. Parshley (London: Pan Books, 1988)

Bell, R.M., Holy Anorexia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985)

Bordo, S., Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993)

Borickman, R. et al. (eds.), Corrupt Relations (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971)

Beeton, I., Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861 London: Chancellor Press, 1982)

Bliss, E.L. and C.H. Branch, Anorexia Nervosa: its History, Psychology and Biology (New York: Hoeber, 1960)

Branca, P., Silent Sisterhood, Middle-Class Women in the Victorian Home (London: Croom Helm, 1977)

Bronfen, E., Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1992)

Bronfen, E., The Knotted Subject: Hysteria and its Discontents (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1998)

Brook, B., Feminist Perspectives on the Body (London: Longman, 1999)

Bruch, H., The Golden Cage: The Enigma of Anorexia Nervosa (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1978)

Bruch, H., Eating Disorders: Obesity, Anorexia Nervosa and the Person Within (New York: Basic, 1973)

Brumberg, J.J., Fasting Girls: The Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa as a Modern Disease (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988)

Butler, J. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity ­(London: Routledge, 1999)

Carter, R. B., On the Pathology and Treatment of Hysteria (London: John Church Hill, 1853)

Cixous, H. and C. Clément, The Newly Born Woman, trans. by B. Wing (London: I.B. Tauris, 1996)

Counihan, C.M., The Anthropology of Food and Body: Gender, Meaning, and Power (London: Routledge, 1999)

Curl, J.S., The Victorian Celebration of Death (Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1972)

David-Ménard, M., Hysteria from Freud to Lacan: Body Language in Psychoanalysis, trans. by C. Porter (London: Cornell University Press, 1989)

Didi-Huberman, G., Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpêtrière, trans. by A. Hartz (London: The MIT Press, 2004)

Diprose, R., The Bodies of Women: Ethics, Embodiment and Sexual Difference (London: Routledge, 1994)

Djisktra, B., Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-De-Sicèle Culture (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1986)

Ectoff, N., Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty (New York: Random House, 2000)

Ehrenreich, B. and D. English, For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts’ Advice to Women (New York: Anchor, 1978)

Ehrenreich, B. and D. English, Complaints and Disorders: The Sexual Politics of Sickness (New York: Old Westbury, 1973)

Fielding Blandford, G., Insanity and its Treatment (Philadelphia: Henry C. Lea, 1871)

Fisher, S., Body Image and Personality (New York: Dover Publications, 1968)

Flanders, Judith, Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain (London: Harper Press, 2006)

Foucault, M., The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, An Introduction, trans. by R. Hurley (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1981)

Foucault, M., Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, trans. by R. Howard (London: Routledge, 1997)

Frank, K., A Chainless Soul: A Life of Emily Brontë (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992)

Frude, N., Understanding Abnormal Psychology, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000)

Gallagher, C. and T. Laqueur, The Making of the Modern Body: Sexuality and Society in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 1987)

Gaskell, E., The Life of Charlotte Bronte (London: The Penguin Group, 1985)

Gezari, Janet, Charlotte Bronte and Defensive Conduct: The Author and the Body at Risk (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992)

Gilbert, S.M. and S. Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven andLondon: Yale Nota Bene, 2000)

Gilbert, S. and others, eds, Hysteria Beyond Freud (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993)

Gleadle, K., British Women in the Nineteenth Century (Hampshire: Palgrave, 2001)

Glen, Heather, Charlotte Bronte: The Imagination in History (Oxford:OxfordUniversity Press, 2006)

Goodwin, S. and E. Bronfen, (eds.), Death and Representation (London: John Hopkins University Press, 1993)

Gordon, L., Charlotte Bronte: A Passionate Life (London: Vintage, 1995)

Gorham, D., The Victorian Girl and the Feminine Ideal (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982)

Haley, B., The Healthy Body and Victorian Culture (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1978)

Heller, T. and P. Moran (eds.), Scenes of the Apple: Food and the Female Body in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Women’s Writing (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2003)

Hesse-Biber, S., Am I Thin Enough Yet?: The Cult of Thinness and the Commercialization of Identity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)

Hoeveler, D.L., Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontës (Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998)

Hollander, Anne, Seeing Through Clothes (New York: Viking, 1978)

Howe, E.G., Invisible Anatomy: a Study of Nerves, Hysteria and Sex (London: Faber, 1994)

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