Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts, 1830-1890

Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts, 1830-1890

Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts, 1830-1890

Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts, 1830-1890


This anthology of primary materials will help redraw our understanding of the complexity and range of Victorian psychological thought. Areas covered include: phrenology and mesmerism; theories of dreams, memory, and the unconscious; female and masculine sexuality; insanity and nervous disorders; and theories of degeneration. Texts have been chosen from a wide variety of scientific, medical, and cultural sources to illustrate the social range of these debates. Embodies Selves will be of interest to both specialist and non-specialist audiences in the areas of cultural, literary, historical, and gender studies.


In truth this 'we', which looks so simple and definite, is a nebulous and indefinable aggregation of many component parts which war not a little among themselves, our perception of our existence at all being perhaps due to this very clash of warfare, as our sense of sound and light is due to the clashing of vibrations.

Samuel Butler, Life and Habit (1877)

Embodied Selves makes available some of the wide range of writing on identity in the growing area of mental science that emerged between 1830 and 1890. Our aim here is not to provide a comprehensive history of psychology as we now understand it as a discipline, but to bring together primary sources which give a sense of how some of the crucial questions about the shaping of social identity were discussed at this time. These concerns included the complex relationship between the mind and the body; the workings of individual consciousness; the power of unconscious processes and the limits of self control; the problematic boundary between normal and aberrant states of mind, and the connections between the individual life and the long-term genealogy of which it is part. Together they formed an intricate, varied, and at times contradictory discourse that permeated Victorian intellectual culture.

Cultural critics now acknowledge how profoundly the broad concerns of nineteenth-century science--above all the perceptions and methods of evolutionary theory--shaped contemporary thought, providing crucial narrative models of social and organic change that were actively adapted and used by nineteenth-century novelists, but as yet there has been little work done on the close connections between Victorian narrative and the wider concerns of the emerging materialist science of the self. We are beginning to recognize how much concepts that now seem characteristically 'modern'--above all the 'discovery' of the unconscious and the development of psychoanalysis at the beginning of the twentieth century--drew on ideas that had been developing throughout the nineteenth century; but there is still a tendency to read explorations of the unconscious in Victorian fiction in the light of later theory rather than in the discursive context of their own time. Michel Foucault has drawn attention to the ways in which particular discourses and institutional practices, particularly relating to madness and crime, operated as regimes of disciplinary surveillance and forms of power. He has exploded the myth of the 'repressed' Victorians by showing the ways in which the endless discussion of a sexualized . . .

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