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Madness - Week 5 - The Yellow Wallpaper II

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Nadine Muller

on 1 May 2015

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Transcript of Madness - Week 5 - The Yellow Wallpaper II

The Yellow Wallpaper Women, Medicine & Madness The Victorian Period: Gender & Sexuality

gender = biological
men = "naturally" masculine
women = "naturally" feminine gender = constructed + performed Public sphere Separate Spheres Public sphere Victorian Medicine:
Gender & Madness Brain vs Uterus “[A] total negligence of, and often very strong aversion to, her child and husband […] explosions of anger occur, with vociferations and violent gesticulations; and, although the patient may have been remarkable previously for her correct, modest demeanour, and attention to her religious duties, most awful oaths and imprecations are now uttered, and language used which astonishes her friends.” What to do? The Rest Cure “It is rare to find any of the class of patients I have described so free from the influence of their habitual surroundings as to make it easy to treat them in their own homes. It is needful to disentangle them from the meshes of old habits and to remove them from contact with those who have been the willing slaves of their caprices. [...] Separate the patient from the moral and physical surroundings which have become part of her life of sickness, and you will have made a change which will be in itself
beneficial and will enormously aid in the treatment which is to follow.”
Silas Weir Mitchell, Fat and Blood (1877) “[An addition] which tends to destroy women who suffer in the way I have described [...] is the self-sacrificing love and over-careful sympathy of a mother, a sister, or some other devoted relative. Nothing is more curious, nothing more sad and pitiful, than these partnerships between the sick and selfish and the sound and overloving. By slow but sure degrees the healthy life is absorbed by the sick life, in a manner more or less injurious to both, until, sometimes too late for remedy, the growth of the evil is seen by others. Usually the individual withdrawn from wholesome duties to minister to the caprices of hysterical sensitiveness is the person of a household who feels most for the invalid, and who for this very reason suffers the most.”
Silas Weir Mitchell, Fat and Blood (1877)
✴ “So many nervous people are worried with indecision, with inability to make up their minds to the simplest actions, that to have the responsibility of choice taken away greatly lessens their burdens. It lessens, too, the burdens which may be placed upon them by outside action if they can refuse this or that because they are under orders as to hours.”
Silas Weir Mitchell, Fat and Blood (1877) “In carrying out my general plan of treatment in extreme cases it is my habit to ask the patient to remain in bed from six weeks to two months. At first, and in some cases for four or five weeks, I do not permit the patient to sit up, or to sew or write or read, or to use the hands in any active way except to clean the teeth. [...] In most cases of weakness, treated by rest, I insist on the patient being fed by the nurse, and, when well enough to sit up in bed, I order that the meats shall be cut up, so as to make it easier for the patient to feed herself. [...] In many cases I allow the patient to sit up in order to obey the calls of nature [...] Most of these patients suffer from use of the eyes, and this makes it needful to prohibit reading and writing, and to have all correspondence carried on through the nurse. But many neurasthenic people also suffer from being read to, or, in other words, from any prolonged effort at attention.” Reading the Victorian Madwoman “In a society that no only perceived women as childlike, irrational, and sexually unstable but also render them legally powerless and economically marginal, it is not surprising that they should have formed the greater part of the residual categories of deviance from which doctors drew a lucrative practice and the asylums much of their population. Moreover, the medical belief that the instability of the female nervous and reproductive systems made women more vulnerable to derangement than men had extensive consequences for social policy. It was used as a reason to keep women out of the professions, to deny them political rights, and to keep them under male control in the family and the state. Thus medical and political policies were mutually reinforcing. As women’s demands became increasingly problematic for Victorian society as a whole, the achievements of the psychiatric profession in managing women’s minds would offer both a mirror of cultural attitudes and a model for other institutions.”
Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and
English Culture, 1830-1980 (London: Virago, 1987), pp.72-3 “These [female-authored] texts present female insanity in its social contexts, and as a reaction to the limitations of the feminine role itself. Unmarried middle-class women, for example, were widely considered a social problem by the Victorians. Stigmatized by terms like ‘redundant,’ ‘superfluous,’ and ‘odd,’ they were also regarded as peculiarly subject to mental disorders. But while doctors blamed menstrual problems or sexual abnormality, women writers suggested that it was the lack of meaningful work, hope, or companionship that led to depression or breakdown.”
Showalter, The Female Malady, p.61
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