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Passion and Pathology in Victorian Fiction$
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Jane Wood

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780198187608

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198187608.001.0001

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New Women and Neurasthenia: Nervous Degeneration and the 1890s

New Women and Neurasthenia: Nervous Degeneration and the 1890s

(p.163) Chapter Four New Women and Neurasthenia: Nervous Degeneration and the 1890s
Passion and Pathology in Victorian Fiction

Jane Wood

Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses nervous degeneration and its literary representation in the 1890s. Much of the fiction of the 1890s self-consciously engages with the physical and medical sciences to configure the new disease of ‘neurasthenia’, a nervous malady which came to be both casually and symbolically linked to the period. George Gissing's The Whirlpool and Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure are novels which situate narratives of nervous breakdown at the problematic intersection of biological theories of determinism and cultural anxieties about the alleged deleterious effects of modern life. The aim of this chapter is to look beyond the particulars of plot and personality which link these books thematically to New Woman fiction in order to reveal the extent of the influence of the biological and physical sciences in creating a culture of unease around the issue of sexual equality.

Keywords:   nervous degeneration, medical sciences, neurasthenia, George Gissing, The Whirlpool, Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure, New Woman fiction

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