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“Shattered Nerves”Doctors, Patients, and Depression in Victorian England$
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Janet Oppenheim

Print publication date: 1991

Print ISBN-13: 9780195057812

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195057812.001.0001

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Neurotic Women

Neurotic Women

(p.181) 6 Neurotic Women
“Shattered Nerves”

Janet Oppenheim

Oxford University Press

The burden of sexual stereotyping bore down even more heavily on Victorian women whose lives were plagued with nervous illness. With many of these women, it is difficult to speak of nervous breakdown as a specific event that interrupted the course of their normal daily activities. Their depression was more likely to be a chronic than an acute condition, similar to prolonged mood or anxiety disorders rather than a discrete, identifiable crisis. Much of the problem of definition arises from the fact that Victorian and Edwardian medical advisors typically subsumed their diagnoses of nervous maladies in female patients under the general category of “feminine disorders,” related to menstruation, pregnancy, or lactation. This theoretical merger of the female nervous and reproductive systems was an integral pan of the medical assumption that biology dominated women's lives, utterly beyond the regulatory power of the individual will.

Keywords:   neurotic women, neurosis, depression, anxiety disorder, sexual stereotyping, female will, female disorders

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