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Representations and Manifestations of Madness in Victorian Fiction

This thesis explores the complex ways in which mental illness was portrayed in Victorian fiction. It situates the literature within historical contexts, but primarily focuses on fictional representations of madness. At times the fiction studied replicates the dominant attitudes towards mental illness in the period. On other occasions the literature forms a dialogue with the historical record, challenging Victorian attitudes and assumptions. These texts form the core of my discussion: Jane Eyre, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and He Knew He Was Right. Some of these are best described as sensation and Gothic fiction, the authors dawn to the sensational and dramatic narrative opportunities provided by madness. Other authors depict madness in a more understated way in keeping with their social realist mode. Thus a range of perspectives on and attitudes towards madness are discussed. The analysis focuses on three distinct, but at times interconnected, themes. In the first chapter issues of gender and madness in Victorian literature are addressed, the analysis highlighting the particular association between women and madness but also considering depictions of male madness. Next, the thesis turns to questions of race and class, exploring the relationship between racial and socio-economic identity and madness. Here, the multiple fictional examples of professional, middle and upper-class men who are afflicted with madness forms a counter narrative to the historical coupling of madness with racial and class otherness. Finally, the thesis turns to the behaviour of fictional characters described as being mad. Madness frequently manifests in violent and destructive ways in Victorian fiction and thus the connection between madness and criminality is a necessary avenue of analysis.
Type of thesis
Bennett, S. (2015). Representations and Manifestations of Madness in Victorian Fiction (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/9849
University of Waikato
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