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'Among the healthy and the happy': Representations of Health in Novels of the Mid-Nineteenth Century

HARPER, SIOBHAN,CATHERINE (2017) 'Among the healthy and the happy': Representations of Health in Novels of the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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While illness in literature has become a rich subfield of critical enquiry, especially in relation to nineteenth-century fiction, the subject of health is mostly overlooked. This thesis seeks to redress the balance, by examining the literary representation of health in a selection of mid nineteenth-century novels, alongside medical and non-medical contemporaneous sources, in order to uncover the range of textual meanings that health is required to convey. The principal aim is to demonstrate that fictional representations of health reflect on and respond to the pervasive culture of health present in the mid-nineteenth century.

Each of the six chapters explores one dimension of the meaning of health in literary works by George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, and Charlotte, Anne, and Emily Brontë. The first two chapters explore the instability of health and the ever-present risk of illness: chapter one considers the vulnerability of health related to social and medical developments, while chapter two examines the relationship between health, morality, and power. The third and fourth chapters consider the tensions and oppositions between health and illness: chapter three examines the relationship between health, vitality, and morbidity, and chapter four explores the performance of health. The final two chapters examine recoveries and returns to health: chapter five considers the relationship between health, action, and occupation, while chapter six identifies a pattern of recovery across individual episodes in five novels by Dickens.

These exploratory analyses of fictional representations of health situate the novels in a wider context of Victorian health discourse while demonstrating that health has a surprisingly subtle range of textual meanings and significances, rather than being an invisible or self-evident category of experience. The fictional representation of health and the healthy body reflects the vital significance of the cultural practice of health in the middle decades of the nineteenth century.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:"literature", "nineteenth century", "novel", "Victorian", "health", "healthy", "Charlotte Brontë", "Anne Brontë", "Emily Brontë", "Charles Dickens", "Elizabeth Gaskell", "George Eliot", "mid-nineteenth century", "mid-Victorian"
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2017
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:05 Apr 2017 09:16

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