Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mrs. Bennet's Nerves, causes thereof

Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Loretta reports:

Curious about Mrs. Bennet’s* delicate nerves, and what exactly that meant in Jane Austen’s time, I found some surprisingly modern viewpoints in this book, published in 1808:  A view of the nervous temperament: being a practical inquiry into the increasing prevalence, prevention, and treatment of those diseases commonly called nervous, bilious, stomach & liver complaints, by Thomas Trotter.
~~~
Nature has endued the female constitution with greater delicacy and sensibility than the male, as destined for a different occupation in life. But fashionable manners have shamefully mistaken the purposes of nature; and the modern system of education, for the fair sex, has been to refine on this tenderness of frame, and to induce a debility of body, from the cradle upwards, so as to make feeble woman rather a subject for medical disquisition, than the healthful companion of our cares…That it should be rude for an innocent young girl to run about with her brother, to partake of his sports, and to exercise herself with equal freedom, is a maxim only worthy of some insipid gossip, who has the emolument of the family physician and apothecary solely in view. A man of fortune and wealth, when he builds a stable or a dog-kennel for his horses or hounds, takes care that these companions of his field-sports shall be duly preserved sound in wind and limb, by frequent exercise out of doors, when he does not hunt.— But in no part of his premises do you see a gymnasium for his children…But we indulge our boys to yoke their go-carts, and to ride on long rods, while little miss must have her more delicate limbs trampt by sitting the whole day dressing a doll. Ancient custom has been pleaded in favour of these amusements for boys, as we read in Horace : but it is no where recorded, that the infancy of Portia, Arria, and Agrippina was spent in fitting clothes for a joint-baby…

5 comments:

Sarsaparilla said...

Very interesting...

I've noticed that my nerves start to feel delicate too when I haven't gone to the gymnasium in a long time. :-)

Monica Burns said...

If I'm reading this correctly, Mr. Trotter was a very forward-thinking man. Too bad it too so long for others to recognize the point he was making.

Lady Burgley said...

Mr. Trotter is fighting an uphill battle that will culminate in the Victorian belief that women (at least ladies) were incapable of doing anything for themselves. Isolate them by putting them on a pedastle and limit their responsibilities to the home - as effective as sticking them in a harem. Praise innocence, and make knowledge, competence, and physical activity tabu. Add in tight-lacing and the most restrictive fashions in history, and voila, there's the perfect Victorian patriarchy.

Jane O said...

I always felt so sorry for poor Fanny Price, who was exhausted by even the shortest walk. At least Elizabeth Bennet was capable of walking a few miles across the fields, even if she did get her skirt muddy in the process.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Loretta and I were talking about this excerpt, and we agree that the writer was probably an older gentleman, able to remember an earlier era when girls weren't locked away. Many parents in the second half of the 18th c. were heavily influenced by the writings on child-rearing by Jean Jacques Rousseau, who believed children (both boys and girls) should spend much time out of doors, "embracing nature." Even girls's dresses from this time show this freedom: the plain white muslin dresses with the wide sashes that allowed for plenty of "romping."

Lady Burgly is right - soon after Mr. Trotter wrote, the Victorians began to narrow a woman's sphere. No wonder he was worrried!

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