Science and the Corporeal
in 1790s Literature
by Elisa Lenssen
"The morally best, the most beautiful.
The morally worst,
the most deformed."
--Johann Caspar Lavater, "On the
Harmony between Moral and Corporeal Beauty," Physiognomische
"What is your fortune, my pretty maid?"
"My face is my fortune, sir," she said"
--English Nursery Rhyme
"We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds;
our planet is the mental institution of the universe."
--Johann von Goethe
This site will explore scientific thought at the turn of the nineteenth century
to analyze representations of the body in fiction and political literature.
Specifically, the site will focus on beliefs and literary portraits pertaining
to the human countenance--i.e. Johann Caspar Lavater's physiognomy--as well as
to the nervous system, madness, crying and hysteria. The age of revolution was
also the age of nearly omnipresent scientific theory. Science was pop
culture in the 1790s, and often representations of that time's cultural
assumptions within literature are overlooked or misunderstood by readers. This
site will work to prevent such confusion by presenting the tenets of
contemporary thought alongside textual allusions. This site does not claim to
provide an exhaustive history of science and its influence on literature, but
it is deisnged so as to provide cohesive fodder for further undergraduate
thought, discussion, and research.
To continue, follow one of the three following links or simply click Next Page
at the bottom of your screen.
The face as moral map: physiognomy
The eye as window: crying and coloration
The body as release: hysteria / The brain as
Relevant Bibliography Entries
- Brown, Gillian. "Consent, Coquetry,
and Consequences." American Literary History 9 (1997), 625-652.
- Christophersen, Bill. The Apparition in
the Glass: Charles Brockden Brown's American Gothic. Athens: U of
Georgia P, 1993.
- Cooper, Andrew M. "Blake and Madness:
The World Turned Inside Out." ELH 57 (1990), 585-642.
- Doerner, Klaus. Madmen and the
Bourgeoisie: A Social History of Insanity and Psychiatry. 1969.
Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981.
- Finn, Margot. "Women, Consumption and
Coverture in England, c. 1760-1860". The Historical Journal 39
- Forcey, Blythe. "Charlotte
Temple and the End of Epistolarity". American Literature 63
- Hoeveler, Diane Long. Gothic Feminism:
The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the
Brontës. University Park (PA): Pennsylvania State UP, 1998.
- Horner, Avril and Angela Keane. Body Matters:
Feminism Textuality Corporeality. Manchester (UK): Manchester UP,
- Ingram, Allan. The Madhouse of
Language: Writing and Reading Madness in the Eighteenth Century. New
York: Routledge, 1991.
- Landes, Joan B. Visualizing the
Nation: Gender, Representation, and Revolution in Eighteenth-Century
France. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2001.
- Lutz, Tom. Crying:
Natural and Cultural History of Tears. New York: Norton, 1999.
- Mee, Jon. Dangerous
Enthusiasm: William Blake and the Culture of Radicalism in the 1790s.
Oxford: Clarendon, 1992.
- Nussbaum, Felicity A. Torrid Zones:
Maternity, Sexuality, and Empire in Eighteenth-Century English
Narratives. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1995.
- Stern, Julia. The
Feeling: Sympathy and Dissent in the Early American Novel. Chicago: U
Chicago P, 1997.
- Tytler, Graeme. Physiognomy in
the European Novel: Faces and Fortune. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1982.
- Veith, Ilza. "Hysteria: The
History of a Disease". Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1965.
- Waterman, Bryan. "Arthur
Mervyn's Medical Repository and the Early Republic's Knowledge
Industries." American Literary History 15 (2003), 213-247.
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