Mental Illness In The Eighteenth Century English Literature Essay

Published: 2021-07-03 15:05:05
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Michel Foucault has written at length on the history of insanity and its effect on the development Western values. In his book Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, Foucault believes development of the madhouse trade can be traced to what he calls �the great confinement� (38) at the H�pital G�n�ral in Paris in 1656 (39). Foucault states that nearly one of every hundred citizens in Paris would at some point be placed within the H�pital G�n�ral in Paris or one of the other �great hospitals and houses of confinement� (42). At this particular time, the officials in Paris were looking for a way to take care of military invalids and people suffering from a poor constitution of the mind (40). The practice of confining those suffering from mental disease, those injured to a point they are unable to take care of themselves and degenerates that don�t meet the criteria for imprisonment, leads to the creation of such madhouses as featured in Haywood�s novel. The mandate of the H�pital G�n�ral in Paris spread throughout Europe eventually arriving in England, and with it came an ideology that labeled people mentally unfit if they did not act or behave in accordance with what was deemed socially acceptable.
By the time Haywood writes her novella the concept of the private madhouse, which is a private institution which works for profit and not to be mistaken with a public facility, has become deeply entrenched in English culture. In addition to the madhouse phenomena is the practice of male domination of women in the social, political and familial realms. English society emphasizes female purity and wants women to be demure, polite, and well behaved. They go so far as to create conduct manuals to guide and instruct woman on proper behavior.
This particular conduct manual states that women are never to be judgmental, are never to have a strong opinion or solicit a man they have an interested in. Haywood uses the main character, Annilia, to portray women�s suffering in England. Annilia is under the care of her uncle due to the tragic death of her father on a mercantile ship. Giraldo controls all of Annilia�s affairs; her education, her inheritance, who she socializes with, and finally who she is going to marry. In the beginning Annilia is happy to obey her uncle and conform to her requirements as a woman in English society; however, this changes when Annilia is asked to forget the man she loves, Marathon, and marry her cousin, Horatio. From the moment Annilia is asked to forget Marathon, she submits to her �passions� and chooses to defy her uncle wishes.
It is obvious that women had little in the way of rights in eighteenth-century England and their lack of inherent rights creates an atmosphere in which mental illness is used to explain the behavior of women who do not conform to social norms. Haywood�s Annilia is diagnosed with insanity and committed to a private madhouse because she decides to defy her uncle and display a spark of independent thought, not because she is truly ill. There were a variety of mental illnesses created to describe such rebellious behavior, for example, �melancholia, female hysteria, menace, and ungovernable rage� (Jonathan, Scull, 2003, pg. 8). Many of these illnesses are contrived and the symptoms could describe a variety of common physiological disorders.
Mark S. Micale believes the convoluted history of psychiatric diagnosis is due to the practitioners in the past lacking objectivity and allowing such qualities as emotion and independence to influence a diagnosis.
There was a debate between physicians in the eighteenth-century regarding the source of mental illness. The biggest question is whether mental degeneration is based in the physical body and as such could be studied, analyzed and cured or whether mental degeneration is purely a mental phenomenon and as such could not be analyzed. Allan Ingram describes a case study by Thomas Sydenham that describes the mental state of a woman suffering from hysteric passion.
Sydenham�s description of �hysteric passion� is similar to what Haywood�s Annilia experiences when she first met Marathon, her true love. �Annilia look�d on him as something divine and from the moment of his first entering the room, felt agitations such as she never before had been acquainted with� (Haywood, 10). The fact that Annilia experiences symptoms that resemble those of a woman experiencing hysteric passion raises another question; Does the woman described by Sydenham suffer from a mental illness or not? Or are she and Annilia both hysterics? It is assumed that Annilia is not insane but simply does not wish to submit to her uncle�s authority. From the moment Annilia looks upon Marathon she decides to pursue a life dedicated to pursuing her personal passions. Physicians in the eighteenth-century had to deal with similar problems when analyzing the intricacies of mental and physical illnesses.
The study of mental illness in the eighteenth-century is plagued by a lack of understanding of how the body and mind interact. Medical science was still in its infancy and physicians at the time were forced to hypothesize the cause of mental disorders. Did a mental disorder originate in the mind and cause symptoms in the body? Or physical symptoms influence a mental disorder? These types of questions were not answerable until well after the eighteenth-century and is still a topic discussion among psychiatrists, psychologists and physicians. Such studies leads to the understanding that hysteria is a disease prescribed solely to females when it became connected to the female reproduction organs, it was �the disease of a body indiscriminately penetrable to all the efforts of the spirits, so that the internal order of organs gave way to the incoherent space of masses passively subject to the chaotic movement of the spirits� (Foucault, 2001, 147).
It is difficult to ascertain whether Haywood wanted the readers of her novella to assume Annilia is sane or insane. Annilia is a young woman, only fourteen years old, and is susceptible to the rebellious tendencies of a teenager; however, she is also a very bright young girl, �a genius rare to be found in a person of her sex� and she is accomplished in �music, dancing, singing� (Haywood, 2). There is very little evidence to support the belief that Annilia is insane prior to Giraldo and Horatio locking her up in her room. Annilia rages against her confinement by ringing a bell and stamping her feet in a violent rage but Haywood appears to empathize with Annilia�s condition and portrays it as a justifiable act. �The reader will easily believe, that on so just a provocation, passion must arrive at the greatest pitch imaginable� (Haywood, 37). With so little evidence proving that Annilia is truly insane, Haywood appears to be using her novella to make a statement against the treatment of women, wrongful imprisonment and the poor treatment of psychiatric patients in the eighteenth-century rather than create a character that is treated as mentally ill.
There is evidence further evidence for Haywood�s commentary on the subjugation and treatment of women in England when Annilia is finally condemned to the madhouse and her jailors seize her from her sleeping quarters. Annilia is described �like a lamb among a herd of wolves� (Haywood, 40). Annilia, the lamb, represents the treatment of women in eighteenth-century England, and her jailors, the wolves, represents the tyrannical male body that is controlling the actions and desires of the female populace. Annilia becomes the symbol for the mistreatment of women and when she is carried away by her jailors, Haywood finally introduces us to the horrors of the privately operated madhouse and to the first evidence that Annilia may in fact be insane.
Annilia is terrified by what she experiences when she arrives at the madhouse and if her account of the experience is cross referenced Foucault�s description of a first person account of the conditions patient�s experiences at Bicetre in the eighteenth-century, it is obvious that Haywood is not embellishing. small portion of wretched sustenance they suffer�d them to take, was not sufficient to humble their fellow creature. (Haywood, 41-42)
Annilia is both humbled and terrified by her first night in the madhouse and if it is compared to the firsthand account recorded by Foucault, there are many obvious similarities between the two facilities.
In the real world account and in Haywood�s fictional account of Annilia�s imprisonment, each patient of the madhouse is left to with a simple pallet of straw furniture, they are given only enough sustenance to survive, and overall the madhouse appears more detrimental to the health of the patient then freedom ever would. Eighteenth-century English society chose to resort to confinement as their preferred method of dealing with those individuals who are incompatible with their moral system. Haywood�s account of Annilia�s situation, while fictional, is an accurate portrayal of their system of confinement.
Haywood�s fictional portrayal of Annilia as a patient and victim within the eighteenth-century private madhouse trade is an accurate facsimile of what a patient of the madhouse trade would have experienced during the period of great confinement. A physician of the period is forced to rely on conjecture and analysis of the physiological systems in an effort to explain the source of mental disease. Due to the physician�s lack of understanding, the patients suffered and were confined to isolated madhouses so they were removed from the public consciousness. There was relatively little safety from being labeled as mentally ill as simple displays of emotion, independence and passion, such as Annilia�s attempt to avoid her uncle�s arranged marriage, were punishable by confinement.

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