"Not a novel, nor even a well-ordered story": formal experimentation and psychological innovation in Sarah Grand's The Heavenly Twins.
This apparent discrepancy--between the novel's heterogeneous rhetorical method and Grand's unabashedly political purpose--was justifiably met by the novel's first readers with a mixture of befuddlement and approbation. (3) Despite its popular success on both sides of the Atlantic, some early reviewers pointed out that this hulking three-decker is "abnormally misshaped," even "monstrous" (qtd. in Bjorhovde 94). John Habberton, reviewer for the popular lady's journal Godey's Magazine, went so far as to make the following observation:
It is not a novel, nor even a well-ordered story, yet there are some stories in it, with a tiny bit of romance and not a little religion. The writer seems to have thought about almost everything, with thinking apparatus which was not completed before being put into service, and she unloads her conclusions--whole heads full of them--without much system or purpose, yet with frequent exhibitions of skill in the art of unloading. (761)
In Habberton's view, The Heavenly Twins therefore is not quite a novel in the traditional sense. It is disordered and confused, full of conclusions which are hardly conclusive. The resulting "three-volume tract" (as Lippincott's reviewer tagged it) abounds in contradiction (Bird 637). Besides its clashing narrative modes, its very form as a three-decker in 1894 was scarcely the preferred medium of progressive ideas, considering the traditional associations of the three-volume format with upper-middle class privilege (especially the patronage of the circulating libraries). (4) As Norman Feltes observes, the "demise of the three-decker" (78) was part of a larger "conjunctural crisis" (77) affecting many levels of Victorian society. Feltes uses this Althusserian phrase in the limited sense of an overlapping and mutually influencing "decline in the [lending] libraries' profitability, the appearance of new publishers, and the death of the three-decker" (77). Yet as recent scholarship has shown, any detailed consideration of Grand's outmoded format is at the same time obliged to address radical intellectual developments at work within the general fabric of late-Victorian culture. In this regard, Grand proves especially responsive to the emergence of popular discourses of eugenics and heredity; the increasing differentiation of social sciences like psychology; and, of course, the rise of the New Woman--all of which feature prominently in The Heavenly Twins.
In recent years, critics have shown that while The Heavenly Twins explicitly engages with theological, specifically evangelical, discourse in relation to the emergence of the New Woman in the 1890s, the novel gives equal credence to controversial contemporary developments in natural science with particular emphasis on the determinism of heredity and eugenics (see Richardson, Love and Eugenics; Ender; Heilmann; Jusova; and Mangum). This secular, scientific discourse branched off into the fledgling and amorphously defined sub-category of psychology, a field that encompassed a wide spectrum of interests including what I call, for purposes of differentiation, "psychopathology"--the study of hysteria and neurasthenia, which play an important role in The Heavenly Twins. At that time, this field of study was variously, if problematically, referred to as "experimental," "physiological," "scientific," and most vaguely, "the new psychology" (see Heilmann, "Narrating" 123-35). To complicate matters further, these terms were by no means calcified into any coherently stable definition, often deployed interchangeably to refer to seemingly disparate theories (see Seth 555). Generally speaking, however, this was a more philosophically inflected psychology concerned primarily with ontological and epistemological issues, such as the nature of consciousness or the status of knowledge, and it is in this sense that it makes its most provocative and complicated appearance in The Heavenly Twins.
When we consider these intellectual preoccupations in light of Habberton's comments, it becomes clear just how many "heads full" of conclusions Grand is "unloading" into her novel and how not only Grand's thinking apparatus but also the apparatuses of knowledge (and its production) to which she turns for support are "not completed before being put into service." This complex of ambiguity and incompletion, apparent on many levels, suggests that The Heavenly Twins is not so much a superannuated as forward-looking novel. Certainly, as Mangum observes, the cultural field from which Grand's narrative emerged, and upon which it made such an unexpected impact, was itself too unstable and transitional to appreciate the "proto-modernist" aesthetics of the novel (117). (5) Yet its shifts in narrative voice and disregard for temporal convention look forward to the modernism of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce while its resonance of current scientific and epistemological theories presages a similar interest propounded by T. S. Eliot and Gertrude Stein, among others (see Murphy 2). To say the least, readers and commentators in the mid-1890s were unlikely to grasp just how formally avant-garde this novel was for its time. My particular concern in this essay is to reconstruct certain aspects of Grand's timely engagement with 1890s psychology--especially treatments for hysteria--in order, on the one hand, to account for some of the structural idiosyncrasies that abound in this widely reviewed, bestselling work, and on the other, to demonstrate how these idiosyncrasies "denaturalize," as Lisa Surridge puts it (128), the late-Victorian values that Grand interrogates.
Perhaps the most immediately striking disturbance of literary norms in The Heavenly Twins is its manipulation of traditional narrative structure, signaled by its disregard for what might be called a realist beginning-middle-end schematic and its patchwork appropriation of genres. For instance, set outside of the margins of the main story yet appended to it at the beginning, the Proem is written in a kind of otherworldly tone that resembles a fable or fairy tale and gives a "sweeping birds-eye view of Morningquest," where the novel primarily takes place. As Gerd Bjorhovde illustrates, "the 'Proem' tries to combine several different elements. It is a mixture of, on the one hand, prosaic and satirical elements, and on the other lyrical or fantastic/mythical elements" (98). With Book I, the narrative voice remains omniscient but descends from the Proem's fantastic heights to a much more intimate and personal mediation of the characters' thoughts and emotions. Grand often employs free indirect discourse in order to bring the reader onto the level of her protagonists' respective consciousnesses. But even within this relatively traditional framework, Grand experiments with various other voices and perspectives. Precisely halfway through the story, the mythological texture of the Proem reemerges in the section titled "The Tenor and the Boy." (6) Appropriately subtitled "An Interlude," as if acknowledging to the reader that he or she will be taken out of the narrative arc drawn by the previous 350 pages, this extraordinary section begins as follows:
Morningquest, with the sunset glow upon it, might have made you think of Arthur's "dim rich city"; but Morningquest had already flourished a thousand years longer than Caerlyon, and was just as many times more wicked....Of course, as the place was wicked, the doctors were well to the fore, combating the wages of sin gallantly; and the lawyers also, needless to say, were busy; and so, too, were the clergy, in their own way, ecclesiasticism being well-worked; Christianity, however, was much neglected, so that, for the most part, the devil went unmolested in Morningquest, and had a good time. (355)
Perhaps most notably, the narrator evokes a sense of immemorial time, but the tone is far from unequivocal. The "sunset glow" upon the recognizable city of Morningquest positions the reader in a particular moment on a particular day in a particular place, but this specificity is immediately undermined by the conditional "might" and finally dissolves into a kind of homogenous imaginary time with the invocation of Arthur, mythological king of Camelot. However, the reference to Caerlyon, an actual city that was the site of one of Britain's three Roman Legionary Fortresses and that many believed to be the real-world counterpart to Camelot, vexes attempts to create a fully mythologized narrative texture. The rest of the passage oscillates between the fantastic and mundane, speaking of doctors fighting gallantly while lawyers and the clergy work ambiguously against sin. This section, recalling Bjorhovde's account of the Proem, utilizes a mixture of the prosaic and the mythical, seemingly to register a kind of allegorical time.
As Bruce Clarke observes, allegory is inherently anachronistic, consisting of an "overlapping and clash of distinct temporal phases and cultural eras" (59). Clarke pinpoints an underemphasized quality of radical and progressive thinking, particularly as it manifests in literature: a reliance on outdated or anachronistic temporalities, often situated in a pre-modern, pre-civilized Golden Age, in order to speak about futurity and reform. (7) Sarah Grand, along with other New Woman novelists including Olive Schreiner, Mona Caird, and George Egerton, made use of this allegorical mode in order to frame her critiques of social norms and suggest political alternatives (see Heilmann, New Woman Strategies 119-54; Surridge 128). Clarke goes on to hint at something of the kind: "In allegory, some temporal dissonance, some historical clash of past and present, present and future, generates a layered text often intended to neutralize or harmonize that dissonance, to recuperate an obsolescence" (59). This strained process of neutralization does not, however, preclude the paradox lying at its heart: that reform and progress are communicable only by virtue of archaic and retrograde discourses. This paradox constitutes one facet of what Angelique Richardson has called the "inherent contradictions that characterized gender politics of the 1890s" ("Review" 684).
This narrative confusion is brought into greater relief by the celebrated shift in Book VI from third-person omniscient to first-person narrator, which reveals a profound mistrust of conventional epistemological models. In order to more fully understand the larger implications of this narratorial shift, it is necessary to trace the pervasive themes of reading and knowing--or more precisely, of reading to know--that Grand conscientiously delineates. These preoccupations constellate primarily around Evadne, the novel's leading protagonist and the wife of the presumably diseased and certainly oppressive Colonel Colquhoun, and to a lesser extent around Angelica, whose cross-dressing misadventure commandeers the plot for an extended "interlude" halfway through the narrative. As Teresa Mangum remarks, The Heavenly Twins "demonstrates that to survive the New Woman must learn first and foremost to be a critic of her culture. Her failure or success depends upon how well she learns to read--men's books, men's reasoning, men's means of control, and the masculine privilege that organizes the marriage plot" (90). Although Mangum stresses the "act of deciphering and decoding masculinist" texts, be they written or embodied, the novel also considers a broader and more abstract kind of reading that extends beyond gender roles and asks the larger question: How do we know what we know in general? (105). Or to be more precise, The Heavenly Twins becomes increasingly preoccupied with a concomitant interest in contemporary psychological discourse: it examines the means through which human subjects come to know themselves and their worlds.
But it is instructive to follow Mangum's lead for a moment. Repeated references to reading within and against a patriarchal model punctuate the narrative. Evadne keeps a commonplace book, for instance, in which she records, like a good literary critic, her impressions of recent books, a process by which she comes to adopt a more heuristic model of learning than the uncritical received wisdom represented by her father. Whereas he is "well educated in the ideas of the ancients, with whom his own ideas on many subjects stopped," she reads the most varied of texts:
She always had a solid book in hand, and some standard work of fiction also; but she read with the utmost of deliberation, and with intellect clear and senses unaffected by anything. After studying anatomy and physiology, she took up pathology as a matter of course, and naturally went on from thence to prophylactics and therapeutics. (23)
I return to this interest in scientific and medical texts below, but for now suffice it to say that Evadne, at this stage of development, reads "to be enlightened by knowledge, not corrupted," a distinction apparently ignored by the "coarser" masculine mind that "makes personal application of knowledge," as in the proverbial medical student who "contracts" every disease in his textbook (23).
The narrator goes on to emphasize this difference on the following page: "The acquisition of knowledge was her favorite pastime, her principal pleasure in life, and there were no doubts of her own ability to disturb her so long as there was no self-consciousness." Reading is a mere "pastime," an innocent "pleasure" no different from any other recreational activity. Yet at the same time, it is valorized as an emancipatory force. "Withholding education from women," Evadne concludes to herself with Biblical force, "was the original sin of man," a sin she presumably seeks to nullify. Her notes are saturated with "principles of action" (24), applications of her knowledge for the betterment of (wo)mankind. The difference between these approaches to knowledge lies, significantly, in her degree of "self-consciousness." Only with her "first overwhelming sense of self," when she "perceived that the world was large and strong, and that she was small and weak," did her concerns shift from "literature" (personal reading) to "life" (social or political reading) (25). But with this reflexive turn, the narrator suggests, comes a "disturb[ance]" (24) and a "corrupt[ion]" (23) when Evadne "realizes her own limitations" (25); and it is this epistemological paradox, which both demands interpretive action while revealing its inherent inadequacy, that subsequently afflicts the novel.
Affliction is a carefully chosen word here, for it is within and around discourses of pathology that the shortcomings of reading as an epistemological tool reveal themselves. Evadne discovers too late that her new husband has a dark, diseased past. She is baffled because she failed to read this fact from his "vice-worn" (66) countenance, and she necessarily comes to the realization that "knowledge cries to us in vain as a rule before experience has taken the sharp edge off our egotism" (80); to put it familiarly, we only fall into knowledge. Only after his past comes to light does she notice that "although his face is handsome, the expression of it is not noble at all" (79). Reading, then, is not equal to knowledge even though it functions as a necessary foundation or buttress to experience to be utilized as an interpretive device in retrospect.
The list of works that Evadne reads suggests that she (like the author) is only too aware of the relatively new discourse of heredity and degeneration, a fact she confirms in conversation with her aunt, Mrs. Orton Beg. "Instead of punishing [men] for their depravity," Evadne proselytizes, "you encourage it by overlooking it. And besides ... you must know that there is no past in the matter of vice. The consequences become hereditary and continue from generation to generation." In response to her aunt's queries as to where she heard such things, Evadne responds, "I never heard it. I read--and I thought" (80). She uses her knowledge, presumably acquired from popular accounts of evolution and heredity by Herbert Spencer and Francis Galton, to make sense of her revulsion and disgust at her husband's decrepitude, translating it into a concern about race-health and eugenics. Of course, it only serves this limited purpose after she has discovered his secret by chance, which no amount of reading could have manufactured. Both aleatory and hereditary determinism seem to be Evadne's self-articulated limitations, leaving little room for intervention.
The urgency and power of this quandary express themselves most intelligibly in Angelica's plot. Like Evadne, she is an educated and progressive--thinking woman who explores different epistemological models in search of one that, as Ann Heilmann argues, might provide a "counter-narrative to the master discourse" ("Narrating" 128) of Victorian patriarchy, including, among other things, cross-dressing. After moonlighting in the guise of her twin brother Diavolo in order to befriend a character known as "the tenor," who subsequently finds her out, Angelica meditates upon her predicament:
But how to win the Tenor back to tolerate her? If she would make him her friend she knew that she must be entirely true--in thought, word, and deed: to every duty, to every principle of right; and how could she be that if there were any truth in the theory of hereditary predisposition, coming as she did of a race foredoomed apparently to the opposite course? It was folly to contend with fate when fate took the form of a long line of ancestors who had made a family commandment for themselves, which was: "Be decent to all seeming! But sin all the same to your heart's content," and had kept it courageously--at least the men had--but the women had been worthy--in which thought she suddenly perceived that there was food for reflection; for was not this contradictious fact a proof that it was a good deal a matter of choice after all? (496)
Until this point, the possibility of agency was only abortively explored by Evadne, who, despite being initially characterized as someone "essentially swift to act" (69), succumbs ultimately to an "ever increasing horror of unpleasantness in any shape or form" (351) that effectively paralyzes her. Moreover, Angelica's inner conflict brings the discourse of heredity into question, a criticism that the seemingly perspicacious Evadne never quite articulates. Whereas Evadne, indoctrinated so completely with the determinism of eugenics, would rather kill herself and her unborn child than perpetuate a possibly degenerate bloodline, Angelica grants at least some credence to the competing, proactive discourse, which remains deeply embedded in the remaining half of the novel.
Returning to the narrative shift with which we began this exploration into the problems of reading and knowledge in The Heavenly Twins, the novel itself seems doubtful of its ability to narrate truth (see Kucich 239-79). And this hesitation realizes itself as a shift in perspective, as if omniscience were no longer all-encompassing. As a result, this shift undermines the very notion of omniscience itself and can perhaps be understood more abstractly as a meta-textual, aesthetic response to the implications of reflexivity that have already begun to unfold in other ways throughout Grand's novel. As D. A. Miller observes, narrative--or what he calls the "narratable"--is possible "only within a logic of insufficiency, disequilibrium, and deferral" (265); it "proceeds toward, or regresses from, what it seeks or most seems to prize, but is never identical to it" (3), thus embodying a constitutive lack, a built-in shortfall. Even if a traditional novel, which The Heavenly Twins certainly is not, bears the mark of this narrative fissure, then how much more so does it affect this unorthodox and innovative work? It should surprise no one to find that some of the most concentrated and intensified portrayals of epistemological crisis emerge from this rhetorical fracture. Some critics view this "disequilibrium" as a "strategy of disrupting" (Heilmann, "Narrating" 123) the patriarchal master narrative, thereby affirming it as successfully productive of the counter-aesthetic that Grand seeks. (This search for a counter-aesthetic is one of the hallmarks of New Woman fiction [see Kranidis 71-72].) In my view, however, it is better to keep the narrative's openness open and affirm its "insufficiency," as Miller has it, in order to leave the way free for us to comprehend its connections to the larger field of insufficiencies and disequilibriums, what Bernard Lightman perceives as the "fragmentation of a common cultural context" (191) that only a few years before the publication of The Heavenly Twins had closely linked scientists, clerics, and laypersons. This ramifying pattern of fragmentation that occurred in the 1890s needs to be comprehended alongside that of the novel itself in order to make more fully legible the dynamic epistemological crisis that Grand's novel dramatizes.
One area in which this discursive equivocation stands out in both the novel and in the larger social context lies in the debates about the hysterical woman that circulated widely during the fin de siecle. "A synonym for femininity in nineteenth-century medical textbooks" ("Narrating" 123), according to Heilmann, hysteria is the locus of a profound epistemological uncertainty that developed through an ongoing transatlantic debate over the definition and treatment of an admittedly ambiguous malady. Although theories and case studies of hysteria flourished all through the nineteenth century (see Taylor and Shuttleworth 184-96), indeed, since antiquity, with the advent of discussions on Social Darwinism, heredity, eugenics, and degeneration, the phenomenon only became more confused and difficult to ground. By the 1890s, the overlap and mutual influence of these seemingly disparate categories is so embedded in the debates being conducted in both popular periodicals and professional journals that it is all too clear just how far they are from stable footing. Hugh E. M. Stutfield, a popular journalist known primarily for his diatribes against the Decadent movement, went so far as to class hysteria among the most deadly diseases of the day: "Society, in the limited sense of the word, still dreads the influenza and shudders at the approach of typhoid, but its most dangerous and subtle foes are beyond question 'neurotics' and hysteria in their manifold nature" ("Tommyrotics" 162). Although Stutfield's cheek is quite apparent, there is little doubt that his jab at the "manifold nature" of hysterical Decadents issues from a sincere impatience with the flood of contemporary theories and the obsession with the topic in the popular and professional press. Stutfield acknowledges this point elsewhere, observing that the dangerous "literature of hysteria is always sure of its public" ("Psychology" 109).
Scholars have not fully explored the "manifold nature" of treatments for "hysteria" that feature prominently in The Heavenly Twins. To begin with, it helps to make a distinction between two types of late-Victorian treatment as they were represented in contemporary medical journals: first, the rest cure and, second, the more proactive stance. Perhaps the most famous promulgator of the rest cure was Silas Weir Mitchell, and it is his approach that finds the most ardent support in print. An advocate of the Weir Mitchell treatment describes his sympathetic if stern method and its results as follows:
One day, by way of experiment, when the patient appeared to be truly unconscious ... I took her hand and told her in a firm voice that if she did not get better she would never marry. The effect was immediate. A slight smile appeared at the corners of her mouth, the convulsions ceased, the pupils and expressions became normal, and she was entirely conscious. I used this method twice with excellent effect. The therapeutic suggestion was one which Dr. Weir Mitchell had used in the case of a young woman engaged to be married and who was affected with intractable vomiting. (Doubleday 529)
The deeply entrenched misogyny of contemporary thinking about hysteria reveals itself quite glaringly here. This is perhaps the most consistent element in the general discourse of hysteria. Elaine Showalter has highlighted the gendered nature of this discourse (one that, more broadly, includes madness), which articulates a "cultural tradition" dating back at least to the eighteenth century "that represents 'woman' as madness, and that uses images of the female body ... to stand for irrationality in general" (4). As I want to highlight the discrepancies in this discourse, however, rather than its few if integral consistencies, let it suffice to say that this is the main thrust of most accounts of the Weir Mitchell treatment, the demand for obedience and a kind of backhanded sympathy comprising the primary ingredients.
At the other end of the spectrum are the champions of a more action-oriented approach. Although there is no single name under which to categorize this treatment, it stakes a respectable claim in the medical journals of the day. Difficult to find, however, is an unequivocally proactive methodology. Most strategies either emphasize exercise and engagement in purposeful deeds in tandem with a modicum of rest or qualify a standard rest cure with a modicum of exercise. This is not to say that the active cure did not have its share of ardent supporters, however. Appearing in the same journal as the anecdote of Weir Mitchell's rest cure, this competing approach is characterized as follows:
The one bright, particular ideal to which all methods for the treatment of hysteria tend, is to secure on the patient a fixed resolve to accomplish some unselfish purpose. The physician and the nurse, ever on the alert for the manifestations of such a purpose, will encourage its development by every means in their power, knowing that an active spirit working outside of introspective and morbidly selfish aims has no room for the development of hysteria. (Stockley 860)
Readers of The Heavenly Twins will recall the passage cited above in which Angelica meditates upon her capacity to change her fate through action and willpower. Although Grand never articulates Angelica as a hysteric, it is arguable that had she not acknowledged this option, she would have sunk into the same intellectual and physical oblivion as Evadne. At the crux of the general epistemological concerns of the novel lies this conflict between action and passive surrender to a predetermined life-script. This same conflict--what one medical journalist referred to as the result of "the lack of power of systemic description" (Anon., "Diagnosis" 521)--lies at the heart of the debates on hysteria that surround and infiltrate Grand's narrative.
If we trace some of these points of infiltration as they occur in Book VI, narrated by Evadne's physician and future husband Dr. Galbraith, then we can understand more fully this complex phenomenon. Galbraith begins this section with the observation, "Evadne puzzled me" (555). In other words, he could not read her clearly. He admits that early on she "appealed to [him] mainly as a text to hang conclusions on" (566) but found her utterly resistant to this facile diagnostic. Evelyne Ender emphasizes the implications of what she calls "textual hysteria" (17) for the reader's ability to penetrate both the character's and the text's interiority or, more generally speaking, their meaning. "The figure of the hysteric," she argues, "is instrumental ... in a game of secrets around questions of knowledge of the mind, of consciousness" (18). The hysteric as rendered in fiction inflects the broader issue of epistemological failure. It registers "an invitation to read" (22) the text while constantly invoking its resistance to reading and interpretation. As a "form of discourse situated at the intersection of body and mind," the hysterical text gestures toward an "unpresentable desire and knowledge" tucked deeply in impenetrable interiority, and guarded by "the subject's internalization of the prohibition on reading, knowing, or thinking about the sexed body" (20).
Ender here articulates what is central to Evadne's illegibility. After having come to equate the sexed body with what can arguably be called the oversexed body, that which is always already contaminated by disease as a result of masculine "depravity" (80), Evadne internalizes this image as a refusal to think or know about "unpleasantness in any shape or form" (351). Evadne's hysteria, instigated by her promise to Major Colquhoun (her husband) not to publicize her controversial New Woman beliefs, manifests itself as a wholesale internal absorption. "Instead of indulging in a daydream now and then, when I liked," she describes to Dr. Galbraith, "all my life became absorbed in delicious imaginings, whether I would or not" (626). Due to her internalization of Colquhoun's mandate, Evadne silences herself and becomes the unreadable hysteric, seemingly powerless in the face of a deterministic force.
But this determinism is tempered by an equally prevalent fixation on action and involvement in some willful project. Whereas earlier in the narrative this dichotomy appears mostly with regard to the deterministic implications of heredity, which in the discourse of hysteria would seem to jibe with the rest cure (i.e. let nature take its course), this latter section is rife with references to the palliative and reviving power of action and engagement. But like the discourse on hysteria itself, the novel is ambivalent about which is preferable. This ambivalence manifests itself in a similar indecision with regard to reflexivity.
For instance, when Evadne spends time with the twins Angelica and Diavolo, she finds "no time for reflection; it was the life of action against the life of thought, and it suited her" (604). But reflection figures later as a proactive force: "I wanted to do good in the world," Evadne confesses,
and that kind of thought naturally resolves into action, but before the impulse to act came upon me I had made it impossible for myself to do anything, so that when it came I was obliged to resist it, and then, instead of reading and reflecting, I took to sewing as a sedative. (626)
The critical difference appears to be the degree of reflection that enables the end of reflection: does one think about doing good in order to do good, or just do something to distract oneself from reflecting at all? One should reflect only enough to propel oneself into action, at which time reflection may cease. The tenuousness of this schema can be read in the similarly ambivalent oscillation in the discourse of hysteria between exercise and active engagement, on the one hand, and rest and sedation on the other hand. Not surprisingly, no resolution appears in The Heavenly Twins even though Dr. Galbraith, whom Evadne eventually marries after Colquhoun dies, espouses the belief that to "work, work, work" is better than to "think, think, think" (636). As Heilmann points out, in The Beth Book (1897, the sequel to The Heavenly Twins), Evadne "appears only in her official function, as 'Lady Galbraith,' acting as a silent shadow to her husband," thereby reaffirming, in a sense, the oppressive influence of the dominant patriarchal discourse ("Narrating" 129). Moreover, Galbraith's championing of work as a palliative is offset by the fact that the work he gives her is in his own clinic. She never fulfills her original plan of advocating women's rights that Colquhoun repressed and that constituted her earliest intellectual interests.
That is not to say, of course, that Galbraith cuts nearly the same repressive patriarchal figure as Colquhoun. That would be to grant consistency to a narrative that again and again contradicts, or at the very best, unsettles Grand's ostensible political purpose. To this end, it makes sense to delve a bit more deeply into the dynamic contradictions that characterize both the psychological field of relations from which the confused debate about hysteria emerges and Grand's novel, in which this complex network finds appropriately complex representation. In Galbraith's narrative specifically, the figure of Sir Shadwell Rock plays a subtle if important role in tracing this deeper level of relations. Rock is a celebrated physician to whom Galbraith goes to solicit advice regarding the treatment of Evadne's hysteria. His dossier includes a book on the "heredity of vice" (662), which necessarily recalls Galtonian eugenics and Spencerian hereditary determinism and which would likely place him in the Weir Mitchell school of psychology--a school derived in part from the work of "ardent Social Darwinist" George M. Beard, who expatiated his influential theory of neurasthenia in American Nervousness (1881) (Gosling 11). Yet all of his advice circulates around the idea of ensuring that Evadne becomes involved in "good works," suggesting his belief in the necessity of active, willful social engagement as a counterforce to that of genetic determinism. He therefore counsels Galbraith as follows:
Don't keep her in cotton wool too much. Make her face sickness and suffering while she is well herself. Take warning of the small-pox epidemic. She has no morbid horror of that subject, because she knows practically how much can be done for the sufferers. If she devote herself to good works, she will be sanguine because so much is being accomplished, instead of dwelling despondently on the hopeless amount there is still to do.
Keeping her in cotton wool--in other words, propagating the rest cure--would only exacerbate her illness. She had found previous relief in helping contain a smallpox epidemic that broke out in Morningquest, to which Rock makes reference as an example of the curative powers of social engagement and activism. He goes so far as to say that he "hoped to see her in the van of the new movement," that is, the women's movement (660). This remark, since it comes from a practitioner and disseminator of hereditary determinism, sounds--at least at first--a surprising note.
Sir Shadwell Rock therefore embodies a conflation of opposing psychological discourses, with regard to the new psychology and psychopathology, and more broadly locates a deeply embedded epistemological contradiction in the popular discourse of neurasthenia and hysteria made famous by Beard, Weir Mitchell, and others. He supports the paradoxical belief that both the "remorseless law of inheritance," as Beard calls it (94), and environmental preconditions are responsible for disorders of this kind. (8) Shadwell Rock's very name echoes that of a celebrated British psychologist of the 1870s-1890s, Shadworth Hodgson, who is primarily known for his revision of Kantian metaphysics. His theory replaces the God-like transcendental perspective with a reflexive subjectivity, which alone provides a conduit to knowledge and truth. He gave the term "Real Condition" to the core component of his rigorously empirical philosophy, which argues that "experience shows us in matter and material processes the only positively known real conditions of the existence of consciousness in individual subjects" (Carr 483). That is, he claims that objects in the world and our sensations of them are our only means of accessing knowledge about ourselves and reality. This perspective has obvious implications for the problem of free will. As contemporary and fellow psychologist H. W. Carr explains, Hodgson "held that in all volition we are free agents.... Freedom therefore is self-determination," a belief similarly advanced by the father of American psychology, William James (484). James's Principles of Psychology was published in 1890 and became an immediate subject for debate. This text is of course the germ of the philosophical movement he later named Pragmatism, the origins of which he famously attributed to Hodgson and polymath Charles Sanders Peirce and which he defined as follows:
The soul and meaning of thought ... can never be made to direct itself toward anything but the production of belief.... Beliefs, in short, are really rules for action; and the whole function of thinking is but one step in the production of habits of action. ("Pragmatic" 679)
James's admittedly more spiritual psychology retains the basic empirical foundation that Hodgson laid, and his aim is practically identical--to schematize the epistemological ground of action and volition. Whereas Beard, Weir Mitchell, and others took aberration of the mind as their starting point and worked backwards from there to hypothesize about human behavior, "new" psychologists, such as Hodgson, James, and subsequently Henri Bergson, began with the "normal" mind, asking first how it functions, and only marginally speaking of pathology.
But it is in their accounts of dysfunction that the confusion begins. The second volume of The Principles of Psychology, for example, briefly takes up the subject of heredity and its relation to "neurotic degeneration," as James calls it (684). "There is no real evidence," he begins,
that physical refinement and nervosity tend to accumulate from generation to generation in aristocratic or intellectual families.... Distinct neurotic degeneration may undoubtedly accumulate from parent to child, and as the parent usually in this case grows worse by his own irregular habits of life, the temptation lies near to ascribe the child's deterioration to this cause. This, again, is a hasty conclusion. For neurotic degeneration is unquestionably a disease whose original cause is unknown; and like other "accidental variations" it is hereditary. But it ultimately ends in sterility; and it seems to me quite unfair to draw any conclusions from its natural history in favor of the transmission of acquired peculiarities. (684-85)
James seems both to believe and to disbelieve in the "heredity of vice," as it were. It is hereditary, yet it is not likely to continue down the bloodline because the propagator will probably die or become sterile before it comes to that. Still, his tone is one of uncertainty and speculation, and the fact that he concludes this major work on an epistemologically equivocal note only aggravates this sense of doubt:
Our interests, our tendencies of attention, our motor impulses, the aesthetic, moral, and theoretic combinations we delight in, the extent of our power of apprehending schemes of relation, just like the elementary relations themselves, time, space, difference and similarity, and the elementary kinds of feeling, have all grown up in ways of which at present we can give no account. Even in the clearest parts of Psychology our insight is insignificant enough. And the more sincerely one seeks to trace the actual course of psychogenesis, the steps by which as a race we may have come by the peculiar mental attributes which we possess, the more clearly one perceives "the slowly gathering twilight close in utter night." (688)
The poetic last line (from Wordsworth's The Excursion ) of this central text in the field of psychology is telling. At the heart of even the most empirical and materialist epistemology resides a lack, an acknowledgement of an inapprehensible excess, that extends beyond our Capacity to know. Thus "even the clearest parts of Psychology" are sunk in "utter night." Although Hodgson himself fails to acknowledge this paradox, his critics were quick to illustrate how it undermined his otherwise empowering revision of metaphysics. Just as James cannot reconcile his ambivalence with regard to heredity, so too does Hodgson's doctrine of free will fail "to establish that freedom of the person from the mechanism of nature" (Carr 484). In other words, if there is any credence to heredity as a natural phenomenon, which even the fiercely optimistic James could not discount, then it remains the case that human freedom must necessarily be limited.
If, then, we return to Shadwell Rock's advice to Dr. Galbraith, we can see how this qualified freedom inflects his methodology. He emphasizes that activism is curative but only "because [Evadne] knows practically how much can be done for the sufferers" (660). Encouraging the exercise of even this limited capacity to make a difference is enough. James says something of the kind in his lecture on pragmatism cited above: "There can be no difference which doesn't make a difference-no difference in abstract truth which does not express itself in a difference of concrete fact" (674). Thus, any difference made is meaningful so long as it finds concrete expression. Evadne knows practically how much can be done, and within this limited context she can make an impact. Arguably, this version of Jamesian/Hodgsonian psychology was at least partially responsible for the pro-active school that grew up alongside the New Woman. This simultaneous maturation can also explain some of the ambiguities and paradoxes inherent in New Woman fiction.
It should be clear by now that an ambitious novel such as The Heavenly Twins--formally messy and lopsided as it may seem--not only holds a central position in the increasingly rich and robust critical landscape of New Woman fiction but also arguably has as much to reveal about the overdetermined field of intellectual debates, aesthetic innovations, and socio-cultural transformations out of which it grew. What is more, the novel reveals that these categories are not mutually exclusive, that the deceptively didactic aims of Grand's feminism in fact gave expression to an unexpectedly capacious and dynamic play of cultural forces--that the embodied female text, as it were, spoke volumes beyond its often silent and illegible presence. It is no longer enough to say that this novel sought to construct a feminist counter-narrative or that its generic, formal, and psychological hybridities denaturalized Victorian values--all of which indeed remains true. As I hope I have shown, the larger point is the fact that the cultural field in which The Heavenly Twins played such a visible part was itself full of inconclusive conclusions, indeterminacies that plagued not only the novel's formal organization and appearance but also some of the most rigorous and influential social, scientific, and philosophical theories of the day. What a novel like The Heavenly Twins enables, finally, is an understanding of the inextricable meshing of New Woman feminism and a larger, supposedly masculinist epistemological discourse that arguably both prepared Victorian culture to absorb the controversial message of New Women writers and determined the course of intellectual, scientific, and aesthetic thinking for decades to follow.
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES
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(1) For rich and broad-ranging studies of early twentieth-century literary modernism's debt to New Woman fiction, see Ardis, Jane Eldridge Miller, and Pykett.
(2) Those scholars who have addressed this hybridity of genre and form generally agree that such discrepancies are common to New Woman fiction (see Ardis, Jane Eldridge Miller, and Pykett). One of my contributions will be to accentuate the role of a hybrid psychological discourse in the novel's mediation of sexual politics.
(3) For an excellent account of the "multiple identity," as well as the popularity, of the New Woman and her fiction in general, see Ledger 1-34.
(4) John Sutherland points out that the three-decker was also subject to the editorial intrusion of the two major circulating libraries, run by "straight-laced, hymn-writing [Charles] Mudie" (27) and W. H. Smith, who "set themselves to impose middle-class decencies on the English novel" (25).
(5) Grand underscored her rejection of the novel as an art form explicitly: "Fiction is of little or no value to those who wish to know the world they live in" (Sex 46). Hence her purpose in writing The Heavenly Twins, among other works, centers on engendering knowledge of the world, not creating good art. Considering the epistemological discrepancies I am illustrating in this paper, Grand's can only be a problematic, if provocative, project.
(6) Grand began The Tenor and the Boy as an independent story in 1879. It was published as part of The Heavenly Twins in 1893 and then again as a book in its own right in 1899.
(7) Lisa Surridge emphasizes that the "dislocations of conventional narrative time" characterizing Mona Caird's New Woman novel The Daughters of Danaus (1894), for instance, "reflect Caird's feminist thinking in the 1880s and early 1890s as she attempted to denaturalize the late Victorian marriage and gender system" (128).
(8) Such paradoxical causality is arguably responsible for the fact that "most physicians employed several remedies" (Gosling 110) and that such "therapeutic methodologies" (109) rarely remained consistent from case to case or from physician to physician.
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|Author:||Lowenstein, Adam Seth|
|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2007|
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