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Title:"Accessory Invalids" and the "Central Figure": Illness in the Works of Henry James
Author(s):Freier, Mary Patricia
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, American
Abstract:Henry James portrayed a great deal of illness in his fiction, and his portrayal shows his recognition of the illnesses of the day, as well as the medical theories of the day. James's presentation of nervous illnesses, febrile illness, tuberculosis, and insanity all conform to theories that contemporary physicians believed in and treated their patients by. James consciously uses illness to delineate character, create plots, and make social commentary.
A comparison of medical theory of the late nineteenth century with James's portrayal of illness shows that James's use of illness conforms to pre-Freudian beliefs about both mental and physical illness. James does not, however, always accept these theories uncritically; several of his works, most notably "The Visits" and "The Turn of the Screw," criticize medical and social beliefs about certain illnesses.
James often portrays the illness of neurasthenia, and his knowledge of the medical theories about this disease was probably vast; his sister Alice suffered from it for most of her life, and his brother William claimed to have it before he began his career at Harvard. James uses this illness to satirize Americans, to develop character, and to create a social metaphor.
Neurasthenia could also develop into acute delirious mania, or brain fever. This illness was caused by emotional shock, and its manifestation was unpleasant but brief. Patients usually died quickly. James presents this illness only three times, a fact that shows that his use of illness for plotting purposes was not merely to remove characters temporarily or permanently.
James also realized that other physical maladies, such as tuberculosis and fevers, could be affected by the nerves. He portrays these effects in many of his works, including The Portrait of a Lady, "Daisy Miller," and Watch and Ward.
James's portrayal of illness was often ambiguous. Part of the interest of both "The Turn of the Screw" and The Wings of the Dove is our own uncertainty about the illnesses of the central characters. Our uncertainty is increased by the conflicts within the works themselves. The characters are not certain of the truth, and therefore neither are we.
Issue Date:1984
Description:254 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1984.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8422064
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-15
Date Deposited:1984

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