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Timeline: Madness in Nineteenth Century Literature

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Kathryn Eveleigh

on 2 November 2012

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Transcript of Timeline: Madness in Nineteenth Century Literature

The American Revolutionary
War 1775-1783 1836 - 1860:
American Transcendentalism 1892: Gilman published short-story, "The Yellow Wallpaper" 1820-1870:
Industrial Revolution 1810: Mexican War of
Independence Much Madness is divinest Sense --
To a discerning Eye --
Much Sense -- the starkest Madness--
’Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail --
Assent -- and you are sane --
Demur -- you’re straightway dangerous --And handled with a Chain -- Poetic Madness in the Romantic Period


- form of creativity & genius,
also known as the highest form of expression

- a means to think differently, use imagination, and value the content of one's heart over the thoughts in one's head

- Romantic poets often mistaken for being "out of their senses" Monomania as a form of madness in Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "Berenice"

American institutions and the newly formed hospital systems decided that the mentally ill needed medical attention.

Madness emerges in the 19th century as a general term for irrational behaviors that become more and more prevalent.

The term “monomania” becomes popular, & refers to a widespread phenomenon, that apparently everyone was suffering from, which was an undue focus on a single idea.

This “neurosis” affected more men than women. “Madness” prevails in American literary representations of the Romantic Period (19th cent.). Madness is curious as a literary theme because it is relatively absent from literature before the end of the eighteenth century. Then there was a sudden focus on madness, especially in scary stories. Why is this? The industrial revolution arrived in full force to change the landscapes of the city – a lot of 19th century texts talk about how “harried” and “stressed” everyone feels from the fast pace of society with trains, etc., very similar to descriptions of today’s fast-paced city life. Work conditions changed dramatically – the nineteenth century was the rise of the machine – poverty, homelessness, fears for the breakdown of the family, institution of marriage, etc., were rampant concerns. Madness in Nineteenth Century American Literature 1800 1820:
Sweeping changes to American society 1810 1840 1850 1830 1890 1860 1870 1820 1853: “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street" (Melville) 1880 "American romanticism (1800-1860): An overview of an era that spawned some of America's most prominent writers." (2010). n.d. Web. 22 Oct 2012. <http://americanromanticismrocks2011.blogspot.ca/>

Campbell, D.M. (2010). "American transcendentalism." Literary Movements. Dept. of English, Washington State University. n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2012. <http://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/amtrans.htm>

Giordano. (2005). "PoeStories.com: An exploration of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe." n.d. Web. 23 Oct 2012. <http://poestories.com/timeline.php>
"Literary periods and history timeline." (2011). Jalic Inc. n.d. Web. 22 Oct 2012. <http://www.online-literature.com/periods/timeline.php>

Nelson Evergreen. (2010). "Edgar Allan Poe's "Berenice"." n.d. Web. 23 Oct 2012. <http://nelson-evergreen.blogspot.ca/2010/12/edgar-allen-poes-berenice.html>

"Romanticism." American History Through Literature. Ed. Janet Gabler-Hover and Robert Sattelmeyer. Vol. 3. Gale Cengage, 2006. eNotes.com. 23 Oct, 2012 <http://www.enotes.com/romanticism-reference/>

"Neurasthenia and the culture of nervous exhaustion: The rest cure and Dr. Weir Mitchell." (2012). Claude Moore Health Sciences Library. University of Virginia Health System. n.d. Web. 23 Oct 2012. <http://www.hsl.virginia.edu/historical/reflections/fall2008/rest.html>

Image: “Mistress and her maid,” by Jean Louis Forain. University of Virginia Art Museum. Gift of the Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation. n.d. Web. 24 Oct 2012. 1900 Melville, Herman. "Bartleby the Scrivener." Moby-Dick, Billy Budd and Other Writings. New York: Library of America, 2000. Dickinson, Emily. "Much Madness is Divinest Sense." The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 1999. Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." Ed. Dale M. Bauer. Bedford Cultural Edtions Ser. Boston: Bedford Books, 1998. Late 19th Century & The Rest Cure: pre-1800s American Industrialization Herman Melville, "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street"
1853 Three major axes of madness:
-madness as a form of social rebellion
-madness as a form of creativity/genius
-madness as a loss or breakdown in individual identity Timeline of Madness in American Context

Gothic Tropes & Civil Discourse http://goanimate.com/videos/0X4Eq-GaGCFM?utm_source=linkshare&uid=0HPnPPUwiXi8 1835:
Edgar Allan Poe penned short story,
"Berenice" 1838: American Native Relocation Movement War of 1812: U.S. vs. British Empire mid 1800s
rise of poetic madness Emily Dickinson: "Much Madness is Divinest Sense"
(~1862) - madman : celebrated as non-conformist
- madness : source of poetic inspiration
"It is more than probable that I am not understood; but I fear, indeed, that it is in no manner possible to convey to the mind of the merely general reader, an adequate idea of that nervous intensity of interest with which, in my case, the powers of meditation (not to speak technically) busied and buried themselves, in the contemplation of even the most ordinary objects of the universe."
- from "Berenice"
"Transcendental", according to American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson = understanding the idea of God, the universe and the self by going beyond the human experience and rationality (...thus, transcending into madness) 1848: Women's Rights Movement Relation to madness:

Unlike men, who suffered from the “neurosis” of monomania, women were more commonly the victims of “hysteria” and “nervous disorders.” Gender roles in society were being challenged.

Women gained independence, but they were generally expected to be domestic; women alone in society were a cause of alarm and anxiety. ...as the movement progressed in time... Madness = society's explanation for non-conformist, abnormal behavior of individuals, who rebel against the society and its imposed standards.

The subtly defiant Bartleby, a copyist clerk, gradually withdraws from life, puzzling those around him by turning to the wall and refusing all work with the repeated and haunting comment, "I would prefer not to."

Bartleby resists the world and the life of labor with a quiet withdrawal, signaling his recognition of a world askew, in which ideals and aspirations cannot thrive. Charlotte Perkins Gilman - Author herself received the rest cure

- Believed rest cure = oppressive notion on which women were told to submit unquestioningly to male authority (male doctors) because it was "good for their health"

- Her short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," challenged patriarchal dominance & female subordination in marriage and society.
Gilman explored the depths of madness as her protagonist, who lacks any sort of control in her life, obsesses over people being trapped behind the hideous wallpaper in her secluded room. A treatment for madness invented by American neurologist Silas Weir Mitchell

Prescribed predominantly for women

This type of cure = worse than the disease:
- involved isolation from friends and family
- enforced bed rest
- force-fed & "effectively reduced to the dependency of an infant"
- banned from talking, reading, writing and even sewing invention of the Rest Cure 1845: Poe writes "The Raven" 1839: Poe writes "The Fall of the House of Usher" 1841: Poe writes "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" The protagonist, Egaeus, in "Berenice" experiences a monomaniacal obsession with Berenice's teeth, which are symbolically linked to mortality. Egaeus feels compelled to extract the teeth from Berenice, even when she is still alive. The act of separating the object of obsession from the body of the individual it belongs to violates the unity of the mind and the heart.
1- List the 3 axes of madness in literature.

2-Why do you think madness appeared so prominently in the 19th century literature?

3- In an industrialized societal context, relate madness, as depicted in "Bartleby" to the idea of an "unmotivated worker". (Does this have anything to do with the American idea of meritocracy?) / Another approach: Explain the characteristics and behaviors of a typical industrial worker of the 19th century. If someone, such as Bartleby, were to explicitly go against your description of the norm (by saying “I would prefer not to”), how might it be inferred that he/she is “mad”?

4-What is the significance of the subtitle: “A Story of Wall Street” in Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” ?

5- How are medicine and its practitioners represented in the American society and literature in the 19th century? Do you think such representations contribute to patients’ madness in a “causal” or “curable” way?

6- Define the form of madness called “monomania”. List contemporary examples of monomaniacal obsessions. 7-State whether you feel the (American) medical society helps perpetuate or alleviates the sense of self-alienation perhaps experienced by people suffering from monomania. Likewise, state whether you feel 19th century (American) literature accurately exposes people to monomania as a form of madness or further contributes to monomaniacal people’s sense of abnormality and alienation.

8- Compare “monomania” as an advancement in the American medical context (it serves to identify/ categorize people who deviate from the “healthy” norm) to “monomania” depicted in literature (i.e. “Berenice”) as a breakdown in identity.

9- According to the 19th century American context, does madness change depending on what gender you are—and in literature, if it’s a male or female character depicted as mad—and what class you are? Is this still the case in current times?

10- “The Yellow Wall-Paper” subtly stages a distinction between the internal and external perceptions of madness. What do people think of the protagonist? What does she think of those around her? And of herself?

11- "The Yellow Wallpaper" makes reference to certain clinical conditions and therapeutic practitioners. What clinical diagnosis would you as a reader make of the protagonist?

12- Make the case, using literary references, that the protagonist in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” has liberated herself from the strictures of society and is indeed triumphant at the story’s close. Or, make the case that she is defeated at the story’s close for she was succumbed to madness.

[Untitled image of Industrial Revolution]. (n.d.). Retrieved 23 Oct. 2012, from

[Untitled image of Industrial Revolution]. (n.d.). Retrieved 23 Oct. 2012, from <http://www.cyberlearning-world.com/lessons/ushistory/assemblyline.jpg>

[Untitled image of Industrial Revolution]. (n.d.). Retrieved 23 Oct. 2012, from <http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-78zW36_wUsM/Tj3b01dh5vI/AAAAAAAAAWw/4rMiRyruCo0/s1600/IndustrialRevolution.jpg>

[Untitled image of Industrial Revolution]. (n.d.). Retrieved 23 Oct. 2012, from <http://www.empowernetwork.com/jaysjerky/files/2012/09/INDUSTRIAL-REVOLUTION.jpg >

YouTube videos:

"Best scene from Bartleby." (2010). nd. Web 23 Oct 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-9tAqdd_4Y>
"The yellow wallpaper." (2009). nd. Web 24 Oct 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifXNSp81iQ4> Gothicism & Medical
Institutionalization Intro to Madness Industrial/ Economic Context Domestic and Gender Context Poetry Poe, Edgar Allan. "Berenice." The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Ed. Arthur Hobson Quinn and Edwawrd H. O'Neill. New York: Barnes and Nobles Books, 1992.
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