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Sentiment and SociabilityThe Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century$
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John Mullan

Print publication date: 1990

Print ISBN-13: 9780198122524

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198122524.001.0001

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Hypochondria and Hysteria: Sensibility and the Physicians

Hypochondria and Hysteria: Sensibility and the Physicians

Chapter:
(p.201) 5 Hypochondria and Hysteria: Sensibility and the Physicians
Source:
Sentiment and Sociability
Author(s):

John Mullan

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198122524.003.0006

In the novels of the mid-18th century, it is the body which acts out the powers of sentiment. Tears, blushes, and sighs — and a range of postures and gestures — reveal conditions of feeling which can connote exceptional virtue or allow for intensified forms of communication. The construction of a body attuned to the influences of sensibility is not, however, uniquely a project of the novelists. The same kind of body, and the same concentration on the gestural force of feeling, can be found in the writings of many 18th-century physicians. These texts concern themselves with the causes and symptoms of hypochondria, hysteria, and nervous disorder, which may have a place in the history of psychiatry, but they obviously pre-date what we might now know psychiatric descriptions and procedures. They do not testify to any insistent irrationalism: they seek to produce intelligible, repeatable, patterns of symptom and posture. In order to understand the purposes and the equivocations of this production, it is necessary to perceive both the dominance and inadequacy of the model of ‘reason’ versus ‘unreason’.

Keywords:   body, sentiment, physicians, feeling, sensibility, reason, hypochondria, hysteria, nervous disorder, psychiatry

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