Cordial treatments : the medical plot in novels by Jane Austen and the Brontës
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The word “cordial” in this dissertation’s title represents its concerns with both emotional and biomedical matters in nineteenth-century England. The dissertation focuses on what it calls the “medical plot”: whereas critics such as Tony Tanner and Nancy Armstrong have argued that marriage and its literary representation structure the English novel of manners, this dissertation argues that medicine and medical discourse likewise shaped the ways authors represented social, personal, and literary “conditions.” It thus evaluates the complementary influence of marriage and medical plots in novels by Jane Austen and by Anne, Charlotte, and Emily Brontë, historicizing medical treatment to show that concerns about health and illness permeated social, legal, and literary discourse and that these concerns were manifested by Austen and the Brontës when they fashioned novels as a figurative mode of “treatment.” Chapter One surveys the apothecary figures in Austen’s works, showing that her novels are as much novels of medicine as they are novels of manners. Chapter Two examines Austen’s “cordial” treatment of disability in her fiction in relation to an account of her family’s disabled members and a historical survey of disabled veterans of the Napoleonic Wars. Chapter Three shows how marriage and medicine work in tandem to influence narrative at mid-century, by tracing socio-medical attitudes toward cordials as they inform the prescient treatment of alcohol addiction in Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848). An Epilogue then gestures toward future critical work on the Brontës and cordial treatments by considering “influence” in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), and sickness more broadly in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847). Illuminated by the study of the medical plot, these novels of cordiality and courtship prove to also be novels of cordials and cures. Early nineteenth-century experimental cordials reflect scientific and personal uncertainty about medical treatment, and the medical plot’s emotional and medical cordials offer alternatives to critical demands that novels prescribe “cures” for the social ills they portray. Austen and the Brontës’ show that while novelistic “cures” are elusive, literary cordials offer palliative comfort to treat medical and social illness.