Love's Madness: Medicine, the Novel, and Female Insanity, 1800-1865

By Helen Small | Go to book overview

I
Love's Madness

Reader! If thou hast a Heart fam'd for Tenderness and Pity, Contemplate this Spot. In which are deposited the Remains of a Young Lady, whose artless Beauty, innocence of Mind, and gentle Manners, once obtain'd her the Love and Esteem of all who knew her. But when Nerves were too delicately spun to bear the rude Shakes and Jostlings which we meet with in this transitory World, Nature gave way; she sunk and died a Martyr to Excessive Sensibility.

Mrs. SARAH FLETCHER Wife of Captain FLETCHER, departed this Life at the Village of Clifton, on the 7 of June 1799, In the 29 Year of her Age. May her Soul meet that Peace in Heaven, which this Earth denied her.

SARAH FLETCHER'S gravestone is set in the floor of Dorchester Abbey at Dorchester-on-Thames. As the record of an actual and fatal case of nervous breakdown, it is a reminder that what was a subject for fiction was also a matter of life and death. Eighteenth- century lapidary inscription was often self-displayingly literary, but in this case the similarity to a narrative convention then very much in vogue is particularly marked. The story the gravestone tells is the staple material of its period's novels, and many of its features-- the opening appeal to the sensitivity of the reader, the outline of the virtues of the heroine, the adoption of the language of sensibility--

-1-

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