Victorian life insurance offices challenged disciplinarity by inviting doctors and statisticians to work together toward a single aim, hence prompting these professions to depart from the territorialism that otherwise motivated them. They facilitated these links among disciplines by diverting the attention of their expert employees from specific pathologies to a common-enough conception of what counted as "normal" or "natural" in a field of knowledge. Nor did they do so in a way that replicated the reformist agendas of eugenics or social hygiene, which carried the perfectionist impulse of most late-Victorian disciplines into the interdisciplinary arena. Instead, they took the normal as they found it, because it was easier to make money that way than to try and convince people to aspire to a norm that did not yet exist. If interdisciplinarity in life insurance altered usual conceptions of what it meant to possess a normal body or to find one's place on a normal curve, it had a similar effect on the late-Victorian concept of a natural or normal price. Unlike classical and neoclassical economists, who identified cases of price disequilibrium (the economic equivalent of the pathological) and sought to remove obstacles that stood in the way of normal prices, Victorian life offices started with a normal price (their standard set of premiums for healthy-enough lives) and exclusively sold their product to customers who were normal enough to pay it.
The pre-eminent figure in mid-Victorian psychological medicine, Dr. John Conolly had his reputation damaged in the 1850s by scandals linking him to cases of wrongful confinement, including one that figures in Charles Reade’s novel, Hard Cash. This essay looks at two major works Conolly published during the scandals and argues that they are responses to the charges against him. Both works focus on representations of insanity in art, rather than actual patients. “The Physiognomy of Insanity” (1858-59) is a series of essays on photographic portraits of asylum patients, and his essays prove to be more fictional than factual. A Study of Hamlet (1863) looks at the ambiguity of madness in Shakespeare’s portrayal of Hamlet, but it explains how Conolly understood the relationship between fact and fiction in cases of insanity. In both works, Conolly defends himself as an aesthete and defines his diagnostic method as a deliberate and necessary form of impressionism.
Although criticism has traditionally focussed on the Romantic celebration of artistic genius, there is also an emphasis on artistic abjection in Romantic writing. This essay argues that the Romantic theme of abjection is linked to the claims of early nineteenth-century Brunonian medicine that conditions of nervous over- and understimulation are the cause of diseases such as consumption and hypochondria, a case which is made with particular reference to the writings of William Hazlitt. Brunonian medical theory also informs Romantic period analyses of a newly emergent mass culture, enabling Romantic depictions of artistic abjection to be understood as a denial of the Romantic artist's involvement in a mediatization of experience which potentially distances the audience from the intuition of reality to which Romanticism ultimately appeals. This ambivalence about the position of the Romantic artist is reflected in the Romantic period debate surrounding the aesthetic category of the picturesque, which is shown to draw on Brunonian ideas about nervous stimulation in a way which makes it exemplary of conflicted Romantic attitudes towards the effects of mediatization.
Nineteenth-century British, U.S., and European writings about the hallucinogenic drugs peyote and mescaline in anthropological, medical, and general interest journals appropriated the drugs from the context of Native American rituals. Appealing primarily to vision, which was commonly understood to be the most intellectual of the senses, and generating sensations of omniscience and self-reflexivity, these drugs became the occasion for their writers’ fantasies of intellectual transcendence and concomitant disembodiment. These fantasies tacitly promoted the imperial, raced, classed, and gendered power of the elite hallucinogenic subject. They also connected with similar fin-de-siècle practices of consumption, including Aesthetic delight in the refinement of visual experience and in the collection of obscure global artifacts, and the passive consumption of media entertainment such as kaleidoscopes, phantasmagoria, and cinema. Although not numerous, hallucinogenic writings should be considered part of the culture of visual modernity that helped shape subjectivities at the turn of the century.
This essay attempts to open up our perspective on novels’ use of medical narrative realism. Previous analyses of “medicine and the novel” have focused on a common realist ideal and on novels with medical content. But even a realist methodology shared by the novel and by medicine did not find common expression in both genres. Accordingly, this paper draws on some examples that are representative of nineteenth-century novels and range from literal discussions of disease to scenes much farther removed from literal depictions of medicine or disease, but which still, I am arguing, draw on narrative techniques associated with medical clinical realism for their effect. In fact, novels revised and redirected such techniques, often using them against the grain of the professional ideology from which they arise. Accordingly, this essay will sketch out not only how medical case histories can use supposedly literary techniques, but also how nineteenth-century novels apply the narrative methods of clinical medicine even where medicine is not strictly at issue, and how they adapt those methods to their own literary aims.