Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

First Advisor

Jeffrey N. Cox

Second Advisor

Paul Youngquist

Third Advisor

Catherine Labio

Abstract

Though much has been made of the subject of madness in the long eighteenth century, little has been made of the resulting ostracism, stereotyping, and labeling that have always accompanied mental disorder - what contemporary mental health experts deem the stigmatization of mental illness. My thesis therefore aims to take an interdisciplinary approach in its consideration of the combined cultural, linguistic, and medical influences that coalesce into the social denigration of the mentally ill during the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. While my analysis includes the work of William Hogarth and contemporary periodicals, I focus on the experience of the Romantic poet, John Clare, who received psychiatric treatment for mental illness at a crucial time in the field of medicine when the emerging practices of taxonomy and diagnosis began to professionalize the realm of psychiatry. As I examine contemporary popular and professional discourses of mental health, I consider how these combined and mutually informative discourses may have contributed to the codification of a stigmatized social status for the mentally ill. Finally, I juxtapose these stigmatizing influences with close readings of Clare's poetry, before and during his confinement in mental institutions, to argue for its role in both grappling with and resisting these influences.

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