Mad Men: Borderlines of Insanity, Masculinity and Emotion in Victorian Literature and Culture

Helen Goodman

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This project seeks to illuminate the relatively neglected subject of male madness in Victorian literature and culture, noting that at least half of the national asylum population in this period were men. Interdisciplinary sources include fiction, popular periodicals, psychiatric journals and casebooks from lunatic asylums in the London area. The thesis explores representations of various crises, examining the blurred line between healthy emotion and insanity through the lens of shifting models of masculinity and gentlemanliness. Chapter One investigates the impact of financial crises, speculation and ‘railway mania’, focusing primarily on nervous breakdown and suicide in Dickens’s Little Dorrit, Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, and Hanwell Asylum records. It argues that the stock market became irretrievably tied to mental health in this period, constituting a major factor in what has been termed a ‘crisis of masculinity.’ Chapter Two traces the evolution of ‘monomania’, developments in psychiatric diagnostics, and cases of jealous obsession or ‘erotomania’ in young married men. It argues that Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right foregrounds the more explicit portrayal of domestic abuse and sexual violence found in Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga some years later. Chapter Three explores representations of men following the deaths of their wives or children, for whom grief becomes pathologised as a mental disorder. It argues that Dickens’s Dombey and Son and Trollope’s The Duke’s Children contribute to the psychiatric discourse on melancholia, advocating a healthier approach to processing grief based on communication, community and action, rather than isolation and stasis. Finally, Chapter Four considers the dialectic between individual and collective mental pathology, investigating mid-nineteenth-century perspectives on earlier political mobs. Contextualised by cultural anxieties about regicide, criminal responsibility, and Bethlem and Broadmoor cases, it explores the complexities of representations of idiocy, trauma and psychopathic political violence in Barnaby Rudge and A Tale of Two Cities.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Livesey, Ruth, Supervisor
  • John, Juliet, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


  • Madness
  • Masculinity
  • victorian literature
  • nineteenth-century literature
  • Insanity
  • Lunatic Asylum
  • Gender
  • history of psychology
  • history of medicine
  • history of emotions
  • medical humanities
  • Dickens, Villains, Character, Popular Culture, Melodrama
  • Anthony Trollope
  • John Galsworthy
  • Trauma

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