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

By Helen Small | Go to book overview

2
Love-Mad Women and the Rhetoric of Gentlemanly Medicine

WHEN Alexander Morison addressed the subject of love and madness in his Outlines of Lectures on Mental Diseases ( 1825), he did so in terms cautiously evocative of the late eighteenth-century cult of sensibility. 'Love', he told his students, 'produces febrile symptoms, and increased sensibility when hopeless--sometimes insanity.'1 Morison seems to have extemporized fairly freely from his notes when he lectured, and in this case the reference is so brief that it is unclear whether he distinguished between men and women at all in his discussion. However, the slightness of Morison's allusion here to the most affecting literary type of insanity was compensated for in later editions. The greatly expanded 1848 Outlines of Lectures on the Nature, Causes, and Treatment of Insanity not only clarified his views on female insanity in general, but gave considerably more space to 'disappointed love'. A table informs the reader that out Of 561 cases of insanity treated at Bethlehem Hospital (the date and period concerned are not stated), twenty-five were the result of disappointed love. Of these, twenty were female, five were male.2 The text remains reticent, however, about the conclusions to be drawn from this free-floating statistic. Morison begins by referring to the popular perception that love-madness was a disease of young women:

According to Zimmerman, the passion of love makes girls mad; jealousy, women mad; and pride, men mad. The former passion, that of love, has been a fruitful source of insanity in all ages, and jealousy and ambition not less so.3

____________________
1
Alexander Morison, Outlines of Lectures on Mental Diseases ( Edinburgh, 1825), 62.
2
Sir Alexander Morison, Outlines of Lectures on the Nature, Causes and Treatment of Insanity, 4th edn., ed. Thomas Coutts Morison ( London, 1848), 319.

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