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Victorian domestic disorders: mental illness and nature-nurture confusion

Laird, Margaret (2017) Victorian domestic disorders: mental illness and nature-nurture confusion. Undergraduate Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Victorian debates about the etiology of madness are examined through a comparative
study of Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White and Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. The
Victorian era is marked by inquiry into the causes of mental illness, defined by a consideration of
both heredity and environmental exposures. By combining literary analyses of Dickens’ and
Collins’ novels and Victorian medical and scientific texts, this study examines how literary
works reflect contemporary confusion about the origins and treatment of mental illness. Anne
Catherick and Laura Fairlie of The Woman in White represent an emphasis on inherited
vulnerability towards mental illness, while Great Expectations’ Miss Havisham and Estella
illustrate the importance of social and circumstantial settings in the development and mental
health of the individual. Gender is a considerable factor in the Victorian conceptualization of
mental illness, as women are thought to be naturally more susceptible to external influence than
men and therefore more prone to states of affected mental capacity. The role of the domestic
sphere is considered as a protective factor and treatment model. The activation of inherited
vulnerabilities through environmental exposure ultimately combines the nature and nurture
theories and provides insight into a Victorian emphasis on control and surveillance of the
domestic environment to which women are often confined.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Laird, Margaretmbl19@pitt.edumbl190000-0002-5930-424X
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Thesis AdvisorMurray Twyning, Amy
Committee MemberGibson, Anna
Committee MemberFerguson Carr, Jean
Committee MemberWhitney, Brenda
Date: 26 April 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 20 April 2017
Approval Date: 26 April 2017
Submission Date: 21 April 2017
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 47
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
David C. Frederick Honors College
Degree: BPhil - Bachelor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Undergraduate Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: mental illness; Victorian literature; Wilkie Collins; Charles Dickens; asylum; confinement; nurture
Date Deposited: 26 Apr 2017 15:28
Last Modified: 27 Apr 2017 05:15


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