Date Thesis Awarded

5-2015

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)

Department

English

Advisor

Deborah Denenholz Morse

Committee Member

Suzanne Raitt

Committee Member

Kim Wheatley

Committee Member

Kathrin Levitan

Abstract

In several Victorian novels, a character becomes incapacitated—and bedridden—for a period of time due to an elusive ailment known as brain fever; these mental alterations usually occur in female characters after an unexpected event or a stress-ridden situation. However, the sources of and meanings behind these fits of brain fever are limited to generic descriptions (if the author provides any explanation at all). This apparently intentional absence of information suggests that the illnesses act as symbols, alluding to or attempting to understand relevant social issues of the time. Through an in-depth study of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton (1848), Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847), Anthony Trollope’s Lady Anna (1874), and Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit (1857), I seek to uncover the motivations behind authors’ incorporation of brain fever into their works, identify the causes of brain fever in the characters’ lives, and analyze the lives of the inflicted characters—post-recovery.