A 'head’ of their time: The influence of phrenology on nineteenth-century literature
AbstractThis dissertation assesses the impact of phrenology on nineteenth-century literature. It specifically focuses on texts by Mary Ann Evans, Charlotte Brontë, Florence Nightingale and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In the introduction, the popularity of phrenology will be established followed by the key phrenological principles which are mainly sourced from George Combe’s The Constitution of Man. The introduction focuses on providing context and evidence to demonstrate the applicability of this argument. In particular, this dissertation looks at women who used phrenology positively as evidence for their innate intellectual faculties. Chapter one analyses Mary Ann Evans’s Middlemarch through a phrenological lens, assessing how phrenology influenced her characterisation and views on patriarchal society. This chapter has a specific focus on Dorothea and her perceptions of her position as a woman and the idea that an active life and knowledge are masculine privileges. Chapter two demonstrates the influence of phrenology on Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor and Villette, focusing on the differences between the two protagonists and the influence of the gender assumptions in nineteenth-century society. Chapter three uses Andrew Combe’s Observations on Mental Derangement, Florence Nightingale’s ‘Cassandra’ and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ to demonstrate how phrenology highlighted the impact of passivity on women’s mental health. All chapters begin by establishing each author’s awareness of phrenology to provide context and creditability for the argument which follows in each chapter.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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