'By His Own Hand': Suicide and Masculinity in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Lyndsay Galpin

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Suicide is a topic that has been somewhat neglected in historical research. Whilst work by Matthew MacDonald has addressed the cultural history of suicide for the early modern period, work for the nineteenth century has primarily either focused on the apparently feminine image of suicide, or broad statistical surveys that lack a deep analysis of gender. As such, men and masculinity have been overlooked in historical studies of suicide. Yet the nineteenth-century press was replete with reports of men who chose to take their own lives, and it was clear to those who studied suicide, collected the statistics, or read the papers that men made up the majority of suicides. This thesis explores the narratives that surrounded male suicide in nineteenth-century Britain and what they reveal about masculinity.

By looking primarily at newspaper reports of men’s suicides throughout the nineteenth century, in addition to literature, religious opinion, and medical discussions of the time, this research adds to a more nuanced look at the experience of masculinity. The digitised newspaper archives have allowed me to access the lives and deaths of men who are not well-represented in traditional archives, enabling a move away from traditional canons of masculinity to more representative, ‘ordinary’ men. The stories told about motives for suicide can be grouped into various narrative types, all of which were shaped by personal experience, religion, literature, other suicides, and above all, gendered and class-based expectations. Whilst previous histories of suicide that suggest suicide was seen as distinctly feminine, have argued that men who committed suicide were feminized, this research demonstrates that masculinity was understood in a far more nuanced way than such gendered binaries allow. Instead, masculinity was compared against other men.

This research comes at a time when male suicide is a subject of public and media interest, and concerns have been raised that a masculinity centred around emotional reserve and stoic perseverance poses a threat to men’s health.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Windscheffel, Alex, Supervisor
  • Livesey, Ruth, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Mar 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020


  • Suicide
  • Masculinity
  • 19th century
  • Nineteenth Century
  • Emotions
  • British History
  • Fraud
  • love
  • Military suicides
  • Poverty
  • Religion
  • Overwork
  • Medical History

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