Brain Fever in Gaskell's Cousin Phillis: Reading and Hiding Love in the Body of Victorian Heroines

  1. Cristina Rodríguez Pastor 1
  1. 1 Universidad de Cádiz

    Universidad de Cádiz

    Cádiz, España


Arts and Humanities for Improving Social Inclusion, Education and Health. Creative Practice and Mutuality. 5th International Health Humanities Conference

Publisher: Universidad de Sevilla

ISBN: 978-84-697-3582-4

Year of publication: 2017

Pages: 31-40

Type: Conference paper


When we consider Victorian literature, it is striking to note the high number ofnovels that participated in the growing debate of the time around health, inparticular that of women. This debate was encouraged by the attention nineteenthcentury medicine paid to the female body. Thus, there are countless examples ofnovels in which the heroine falls mysteriously ill at a certain point in the plot,disconcerting family and friends and requiring the immediate assistance of thedoctor and the nurse. Contemporary medical theories warned about the somaticconsequences of both emotional excess and repression, particularly in the case ofwomen, considered by nature more emotional than men. Therefore, medicalanxieties focused on women, especially bourgeois women, scrutinizing their bodiesfor external signs of emotion. The female body, subject to the medical gaze, turnsinto a text that offers her readers privileged access to her emotional life. Its vigilanceand the control of her emotions was necessary to grant her health and that of theEmpire. Despite the effort of doctors to acquire it, this ability to read bodily signs ofemotion was directly attributed to women. However, it is interesting to analyse hownovels like Cousin Phillis (1865) provided instruction in the emotional language ofthe body. Gaskell‘s novel supports medical theories about the threat of emotions tothe fragile balance of female health while, simultaneously, questioning thesupposedly natural association of women with affective hermeneutics.