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

By Helen Small | Go to book overview

5
The Hyena's Laughter: Lucretia and Jane Eyre

THE explicit association of love-mad women with insurrection slowly faded during the 1820s. Stories about them continued to attract writers, and although, in the absence of a comprehensive survey of 1820s and 1830s fiction, it is difficult to be confident about the numbers of novels concerned, a general pattern emerges. Walter Scott's influence was strong. The madwomen in Bulwer- Lytton 's Godolpbin ( 1833); Rosina Lytton's Cheveley; or, The Man of Honour ( 1839) and Ellen Pickering's Nan Darrell; or, The Gipsy Motber ( 1839) are discernibly indebted to Madge Wildfire and Meg Merrilies. Lady Caroline Lamb also had her followers, notably W. H. Maxwell, whose O'Hara; or, 1798, published anonymously in 1825, drew heavily on Glenarvon.1 As these examples show madwomen were moving down the social hierarchy in British fiction of the 1820s and 1830s, often becoming either gypsies themselves ( Scott's Meg Merrilies,2 Pickering's Nan Darrell) or closely associated with gypsies ( Lytton's Mary Lee).3 They were rarely now the central figures of new fiction, and, interestingly, they seem to have been ageing. O'Hara, Nan Darrell, and Frances Trollope 's Michael Armstrong ( 1839) all depict crazy old women, whose age appears to give literal expression to their long history in English fiction. More importantly, in terms of where the convention would go next, many of these women act out revenge plots from which the novels' more aristocratic heroines are carefully distanced.

____________________
1
An interesting exception is Frances Trollope's industrial novel The Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong, The Factory Boy ( 1839), which made effective use of pathetic female insanity as one weapon in a searing attack on conditions in the industrial North. Old Sally's insanity arises not from maltreatment by a lover, but from her exploitation since childhood by the owners of the textile mills.
2
From Guy Mannering; or, The Astrologer ( Edinburgh, 1815).
3
The figure of the love-mad gypsy persisted in English fiction. For a late example, see James Payn's Lost Sir Massingberd: A Romance of Real Life ( London, 1864).

-139-

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