Suicide, gender, and the fear of modernity in nineteenth-century medical and social thought.
This analysis was sustained by the new science of social statistics, whose initial findings seemed to provide empirical evidence attesting to the negative impact of urban life. Compilations of rates of disease, insanity, and violence reinforced ancient suspicions about the evils of the city. (2) Because self-destructive behavior became a prima facie example of the corrupting effects of urbanization, the incidence of suicide developed into a barometer for social health. (3) Given the assumptions which had informed the collection of these data, it was almost inevitable that what constituted a suicide would be defined in ways that reinforced assertions about the disruptive consequences of urbanization and modernization. What commentators considered to be self-destructive behavior was framed by their assumptions of what (modernity) caused self-destructive behavior and who (men) would be most susceptible to it. (4) These beliefs were enshrined in Emile Durkheim's 1897 definitive, Suicide: A Study in Sociology and have remained undisputed ever since. (5)
From the very first, hypotheses about the causes of suicide were tied to sentimental visions of the family and to an ambivalence toward social change. Thus, warnings of nascent suicide epidemics were coupled with nostalgic portraits of rural life. Since the nineteenth century, experts have concluded that the best safeguards against suicide lay in the restoration of traditional values, especially the patriarchal family. (6)
Given the logic of these assumptions it was a foregone conclusion that women would prove more immune to suicide than men. A gendered analysis, however, not only challenges that premise, but also it calls into question the entire statistical enterprise which has informed our understanding of suicide since the early nineteenth century. (7)
The City as Killer
The connection between suicide and urban life has deep roots in Western thought. As early as the seventeenth century, clergymen and moral philosophers portrayed urban dwellers at a much greater risk of suicide than their country cousins. For instance in 1653, the English Puritan minister Sir William Denny connected what he alleged was an outbreak of suicides to the growth of London as an urban center. (8) By the eighteenth century the city became a metaphor for those habits--intemperance, idleness, melancholy, decline of religious faith, and licentiousness--which sermons since the seventeenth century had connected with suicide. "Why," asked Voltaire in the Dictionnaire philosophique (1764), "do we have fewer suicides in the country than in cities?" The reason, according to Voltaire, was that "in the fields it is only the body which suffers; in the city it is the mind. The ploughman doesn't have time to be melancholic. It is," he concluded, "the idle who kill themselves." (9) Like Voltaire, Jean Dumas (1773) tied the alleged increase in suicide to the decline of the traditional social and moral order brought on by the growth of cities. (10) A decade later the French playwright Louis Sebastien Mercier claimed that urban conditions had made "suicide ... more common in Paris today than in all the other cities in the known world." (11)
The association of suicide, vice, urbanization, and modernity gained intensity in the beginning of the nineteenth century as the generalized anxieties of earlier eras were translated into social "facts" by swelling urban populations and by the growth of urban classes less attached to traditional authoritarian structures. Informing and exacerbating all of this was a fear of gender chaos: women, it seemed, were becoming more like men and men, more like women. Although these concerns surfaced in revolutionary France, they intensified throughout the nineteenth century. (12) Thus, as experts defined suicide as a male activity, they simultaneously labelled women who killed themselves as entering the male sphere. Within the rules that defined who was at risk for self-destruction lay the warning that if women persisted in acting like men they endangered not only themselves, but also the foundation of all that mattered, the family. Often, as l show below, this connection was explicit. Often, however, these gendered issues were submerged in a formulaic and generalized set of caveats about the dangers of urban life which portrayed those most subsumed in it (men) at greatest risk of suicide. In this construction, women (because suicide was gendered as male) rarely appear. This absence, however, both obscures and reveals concrete fears that increasing numbers of working urban women were themselves among the forces of modernity that posed a "threat" to the moral fabric. (13) So, while anxiety about the changing role of women was no mere abstraction, any more than the fear of class conflict was, it remained subterranean in the highly structured and ritualized jeremiads about the connections between suicide and urban life. It is those latter texts and warnings that I examine first, before I reconnect them with the more explicit discussion of women, gender, and suicide.
"Every day," wrote the Prussian diplomat, J. F. Reichardt in 1803, "one hears talk of murders and suicides among the people and the petty bourgeoisie" of Paris. (14) In the New World, Americans also uncovered an urban suicide epidemic. In The Guilt, Folly, and Sources of Suicide, two sermons delivered and published in 1805, Presbyterian Minister Samuel Miller of New York proclaimed that suicide was "a crime which has become alarmingly
frequent ... in our city." The rate of suicide, Miller insisted, was tied directly to "the progress of vice in our city. (15)
These examples, along with those that opened this section, expose two strands of anti-urban thought, one religious and the other secular. Ministers, like Denny and Miller, annunciated the Calvinist belief that the temptation to suicide was best held at bay by tight authoritarian communities. When communitarian controls were relaxed and moral choices multiplied, as they tended to in cities, Calvinist clergymen feared that ordinary people would find it difficult to resist temptation. The secular view, as evidenced in Voltaire, Dumas, and Mercier, contrasted the sheer exhaustion and emotional equilibrium of rural life with the alleged psychological anxiety of urban existence. At bottom, however, both religious and secular assertions that modernity led to suicide were founded on the shared belief that humans were unable to negotiate the variety and choice that urban life offered. By the early nineteenth century, these two strands become so conflated that their differences became difficult, if not impossible, to disentangle.
This merging of religious and secular fears of modernity found its clearest expression in the medical rhetoric of the "moral treatment." Its advocates believed in an environmental view of the etiology of disorder. Health depended upon the combination of diet, atmosphere, climate, work, and life style; disease, even lesions in the brain, resulted from imbalance of these elements. Fed by a belief that, like the environment, individuals were malleable, suppressive modes of control were deemphasized in favor of more repressive behaviors. Reflecting wider cultural, economic, and political developments, the moral treatment stressed self-discipline as an alternative to external authority. (16)
The assumptions of the moral treatment were especially useful for explaining the etiology of non-specific psychiatric disorders like suicide. Even though its proponents had their own agendas, the moral treatment provided a "scientific" vocabulary, as well as a common ground, for religious and secular assertions that suicide was a function of modern urban life. And, more than any other group, alienists (nineteenth-century forerunners of psychiatry) provided the perfect combination of scientific and moral rhetoric to legitimize the popular and religious beliefs that had connected modernity with increased suicides.
In alienists' hands, social descriptions mutated into diagnosis. And, given the protean nature of suicide, these diagnoses could only be expressed metaphorically. Thus, "civilization" became a metaphor for modern urban society, while "education," "ennui," and the breakdown of social distinctions were its signifiers. When the French alienist, Jean-Pierre Fairer (1822), asserted that "civilization plays a great role in the production of suicide," it was quite clear to his readers, particularly to other alienists, that "civilization" was synonymous with contemporary urban life. For while "civilization" exposed the brain to increased stresses and excited an excess of passions and desires that could not be satisfied, these pressures, wrote Falret, were "almost unknown" in rural regions of Europe. (17) An 1836 review of suicide statistics published in Annales d'hygiene connected increasing European suicide rates with rising social aspirations: "Suicides," according to this analysis, were "more common where education is more widespread," and they were less frequent where education was limited to those classes who traditionally required it for public service. The rate of suicide would be reduced "if the education of youth was more in conformity to that of their relatives, and to the real needs of the social sphere" into which they were born. (18) "In all countries of the world," wrote the French alienist Louis Bertrand in 1857, "suicides are most common where education is the most diffused." (19)
Across the Channel, the sentiments were the same. "There cannot be a doubt," wrote Forbes Winslow (1840), editor and founder of the British Journal of Psychological Medicine, "but that the general diffusion of knowledge, and the desire to place within the command of the humblest person the advantages of education, have not a little tended to promote the crime of suicide." For, Window argued, that "in proportion as the intellect becomes expanded, knowledge and civilization diffused, the desire to commit self-murder would be engendered. It is an indisputable fact," concluded Winslow, "that insanity in all its phases marches side by side with civilization and refinement. (20)
Modernity (or "civilization") led to suicide because it subverted traditional forms of deference. "Man needs an authority to direct his passions and govern his actions," wrote Esquirol, because "left to his own weakness, he falls into indifference and soon after into doubt; nothing bolsters his courage, he is defenseless against the sufferings of life's predicaments, against internal anguish, against the vicissitudes of fortune, against outbursts of passion." Because lines of authority were clearer in the countryside than in the cities, one can be certain, added Esquirol, that "in comparing the number of suicides in cities, especially in capitals, with the number of suicides in the countryside," the cities will always produce more suicides. (21)
The opinions of French, British, and American alienists about modernity and suicide were reinforced by republication and translation of each others' writings in psychiatric journals like the Annales d'hygiene publique, Annales medico-psychologiques, Asylum Journal of Mental Science, Journal of Psychological Medicine, and the American Journal of Insanity. (22) For instance, in an 1855 article entitled "De l'influence de la civilisation sur le suicide," Alexandre Brierre de Boismont, editor of the Annales medico-psychologiques, cited the works of his New and Old World colleagues to support his contention that modernity underlay an increase in the number of suicides: "The time in which we live is not only wrought by ennui, this sickness of advanced civilizations," but also by "a universal confusion of ideas, a general weariness, the complete disillusionment with everything we have praised and adored." (23) An 1858 article in the London Journal of Psychological Medicine drew on French sources that "proved that among the inhabitants of large cities suicides are more frequent than in rural districts," to explain "the high rate of suicide in the metropolis of the Northern States of America [New York City]." (24)
The assertion by the Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet that suicide rates followed a statistical "law," which could be "confirmed year after year," provided additional authenticity for assertions that increases in suicide were a function of the complexity of urban life. (25) Extending Quetelet's law, the editors of nineteenth-century psychiatric journals regularly published suicide rates as evidence of the relationship between the city and the rising incidence of suicide.
Even though these suicide statistics often were ambiguous or questionable, the underlying assumption of the connection between modernity and suicide was sufficient to ensure that the data would be interpreted as an indictment of urban life. (26) For instance, the French asylum (Liancourt) director, Jean-Baptiste Cazauvieilh collected rates of suicide for rural France and found that, in many cases, rural suicide rates exceeded those in cities. Lack of "restraint" combined with ambition (for more land), greed, and alcoholism were, according to Cazauvieilh, the reasons for the high rate of suicide in the countryside. (27) Nevertheless, subsequent studies, including Brierre de Boismont's influential Du suicide et de la folie suicide (1856), cited Cazauvieilh's 1840 Du Suicide as evidence for the urban nature of suicide. (28)
In the United States, Dr. Amariah Brigham, the Superintendent of the New York State Lunatic Asylum in Utica and editor of The American Journal of Insanity, used data that were admittedly incomplete and questionable for his assertions in 1845 that suicide had reached epidemic proportions in American cities. (29) Brigham's conclusions were based on statistics supplied by Dr. E. K. Hunt of Hartford, Connecticut. To this data, Hunt had appended the caveat that he was "far from claiming that an accurate estimate can be made from the data before us, as to the number of suicides committed throughout the country, or in any particular portion of it." Suicides, Hunt explained, were much more likely to be reported in large cities than in rural areas. (30) Although he faithfully published Dr. Hunt's warnings about the defects of suicide statistics, Brigham, nevertheless, used the data as if their veracity had been established. Brigham was not trying to deceive anyone (he did, after all, publish Hunt's caveat); rather, both Brigham and his readers shared a set of beliefs that established the rules for determining which data were valid and which were not. (31) Therefore, Brigham's Journal continued to rely on similar sources which seemed to confirm a growing disparity between urban and rural suicide. (32)
Statistics demonstrated, according to Dr. Petit, the director of the asylum at Rennes (France), that "the most industrial areas, are also those which count the most suicides." (33) "The conclusion to draw from these facts is evident," wrote Brierre de Boismont: "The rate of suicide increases progressively with the increase of the population of cities, and decreases progressively with the increase in the population of the countryside; the rise or fall of the rate of suicide in all districts thus corresponds directly to the relative strength of the urban or rural component." (34) Dr. Brierre de Boismont had proved, "by authentic and exact statistics," wrote a reviewer of Du suicide et de la folie suicide (1856) in the American Journal of Insanity, "that the number of suicides is in direct proportion with the advance of civilization." (35)
Carrying this conviction to its logical conclusion, American and British asylum superintendents had constructed their asylums in rural locations. Indeed, bound up with the "moral treatment" was the belief, shared by French, British, and American alienists, that removal of the insane from urban to rural settings provided powerful therapeutic benefits.
Nineteenth century psychiatry not only gave credibility to popular beliefs about the nexus between modernity and suicide, but also it provided a"scientific" vocabulary for others who wished to medicalize the causes of suicide. (36) This medical language and diagnosis also infected the discussion of suicide in the British, French, and American popular press. For instance, in August 1859 The New York Times attributed "A New Epidemic" of suicides to the conditions fostered by urban life. (37)
Building on these clinical views, the periodical press emphasized the affinity between urban vice and suicide: "History shows," explained a writer in Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1859) that suicide increases "among nations sunk in enervating luxuries and vices" as a consequence of the extraordinary degeneracy of public and private morals in those countries. (38) Suicide was "never less than five times higher [in cities] than in villages," according to an 1880 article in London's Blackwood's Magazine, because in cities there was "more misery and more despondency; with less encouragement of restraint." (39) And, repeating sentiments first expressed by Esquirol three-quarters of a century earlier, a writer in the British Pearson's Magazine insisted that "careful study of statistics for the last half century proves that [the increase in] suicide ... can only be attributed to that complex influence we call civilization." (40) These views were summed up by the British commentator Reginald Skelton, who, writing in the last year of the nineteenth century, confirmed that "the increase and extension of education has contributed in no small degree to the general malaise. The enlightened masses have become dissatisfied with their social condition," wrote Skelton, and "it is a marked characteristic of the present epoch that a considerable increase in worldly ambition ... has pervaded every class of society." This "social capillarity," Skelton diagnosed as a "social disease," which he "unhesitatingly affirm[ed] the increase of suicide to be a symptom." (41)
In the final decades of the nineteenth century, two influential and methodologically sophisticated statistical studies of suicide appeared, which confirmed the link between modernity and the alleged increasing incidence of suicide: Henry Morselli's Suicide: An Essay on Comparative Moral Statistics (1879) and Thomas G. Masaryk's Suicide and the Meaning of Civilization (1881). For Morselli, professor of psychological medicine at the Royal University of Turin, these statistics demonstrated that "in the aggregate of the civilized States of Europe and America the frequency of suicide shows a growing and uniform increase ... since the beginning of the century" that multiplied "more rapidly than the geometrical augmentation of the population and of general mortality." These factors convinced Morselli that suicide was the "fatal disease of civilized peoples." "Suicide," he insisted, was "an effect of the struggle for existence and of human selection, which works according to the laws of evolution among civilized people." Urban (modern) societies had more suicides than rural (traditional) ones because in the city the struggle for existence was more intense. Although Morselli admittedly was influenced by the language of Spencer, Darwin, and Wallace, his conclusions reflected the assumptions that had informed the investigations of his psychiatric colleagues throughout the nineteenth century. Thus, Morselli advised that the best prophylaxis for suicide lay in the moral treatment of Maudsley and Tuke. (42)
Like Morselli, Thomas Masaryk argued that suicide rates were directly proportional to social complexity. According to the young Austrian-trained academic and future liberal democratic founder of Czechoslovakia, "primitive people showed no suicide tendency at all;" but "civilized peoples, on the other hand, show a very intensive one." Masaryk, who was then experiencing his own personal crisis of belief, argued that the decline of religious faith, which resulted from the overthrow of the traditional social order, was the fundamental cause of a modern suicide epidemic: "The contemporary mass phenomenon of suicide results from the collapse of a unified world-view that has consistently given Christianity its value among the masses in all civilized countries." Suicide, according to Masaryk, was "the fruit of progress, of education, of civilization." (43)
Both Morselli's and Masaryk's views were echoed by the British psychiatrist and barrister S. A. K. Strahan in his 1893 Suicide and Insanity: A Philosophical and Sociological Study. Like Morselli, Strahan relied on Spencer's sociology to provide "scientific" justification for the ancient connection between modernity and suicide: "Where civilisation is highest the struggle for life is fiercest, and there we meet the greatest number of breakdowns.... It is a sad fact that suicide, all the world over, occurs in inverse ratio to ignorance. To the untutored savage it is almost unknown, and it increases regularly as we rise step by step through the various grades of civilization." (44)
This review of nineteenth-century experts' almost universal belief that suicide increased with the growth of "civilization" confirms the assertion of historian Olive Anderson that "Victorian ideas about the incidence of suicide were illustrated by statistics rather than founded upon them." (45) In fact, given the seemingly overwhelming "common sense" that informed the connection between modernity and self-destruction, it is difficult to imagine how Europeans or Americans could have read suicide statistics in any way other than one which reinforced their preconceptions. (46) In any case, the connection between modernity and suicide was so firmly established by the end of the nineteenth century that experts would see their task as uncovering precisely why rather than whether this was so. (47)
The Immunity of Women
To the extent that modern urban life was identified as the cause of suicide, traditional familial values were presented as the best protection against self-destruction. (48) Indeed, the replication of an ideal "family" was often the aim of the "moral treatment" in British, French, and American asylums, even among those who, like Philippe Pinel, advocated removing patients from particular familial situations which they saw as contributing to a disorder. (49) As Brierre de Boismont argued in 1856, the "treatment which renders the greatest service" to the suicidal is "family life," which itself can remove "the moral suffering in the vast majority" of cases. (50) Reviewing European and American suicide statistics, Albert Rhodes, an American author who lived in Paris and whose articles on "social issues" appeared regularly in American, French, and British periodicals, concluded in 1876 that "these figures are eloquent pleaders in favor of family ties as conservators for life." (51) As one British writer explained in 1883, "domestic ties, religious training in youth, and a sense of the duties that each of us owes to society, are the best safeguards against the growing evil" of suicide. (52)
It became axiomatic that, if traditional family life protected its members from suicide, those most subsumed in traditional roles--women--ought to demonstrate the greatest resistance to suicide. Not surprisingly, this was exactly what the earliest statistics showed--that approximately three out of every four completed suicides in both Europe and North America was a man. (53) "Although women were more exposed to mental illness than men," wrote Esquirol in 1821, "suicide is less frequent among them. Observers from all nations are in agreement on that issue." (54)
Esquirol attributed this to women's "over-excitement of their sensibilities, their flights of imagination, their exaggerated tenderness, their religious attachments," all of which "produce in them illnesses opposed to suicide, in addition to which their mild character and natural timidity distances them" from suicidal thoughts. (55) The reason that suicide was "less frequent among women," wrote Falret in 1822, was to be found "in the weakness of their physical constitution, in the sweetness of their temperament, in their natural timidity, which saves them from these murderous excesses." (56)
Esquirol's and Falret's explanations for women's resistance to suicide reflected widely held assumptions which were repeated almost reflexively throughout the century. While "civilization" was attached to male behavior, "mother," "wife," and "woman" served as a representation of a set of socially constructed behaviors attached to females that translated vaguely into an assortment of attributes that included passivity, frailty, modesty, patience, loyalty, acceptance, and self-renunciation. (In French, of course, "femme" is used interchangeably for "woman" and "wife.") In this scheme "civilization" and "women" were opponents if not opposites. Social constructions (gender), as opposed to biological distinctions (sex), became the operative metaphors used to explain the alleged immunity of women to suicide. This circumstance, of course, did not preclude the conflation of gender and sex; rather, it ensured it.
Thus, rudimentary and incomplete statistics were proof enough for the editors of Annales d'hygiene in 1829 "that women are able to bear the vicissitudes of life better than men." (57) "There are more suicides among men than women," according to Forbes Winslow (1840), which "will not surprise those who know the energy, courage, and patience of women under misfortune; men more readily give way to despair, and to the vices consequent upon it." (58) Women proved more resistant to suicide, wrote Brierre de Boismont in 1856, because suicide required "a degree of energy, of courage, of despair, which is not in conformity with the weak and delicate constitution of women." Moreover, women's heightened attachment to "family affections" and "religious principles" were, according to Brierre de Boismont, "obstacles which struggle victoriously against the idea of self-destruction." (59) Bertrand (1857) tied the "difference in frequency of suicide between the two sexes" to the fact that women were more sedentary, followed more regular practices, were more religious, more resigned to life, and better able to bear the incessant pain of life than men. (60)
Indeed, the same reasoning continued to be presented throughout the century with such regularity, that hardly anyone doubted the assertion in a widely republished 1881 British article entitled "Suicidal Mania," that "religious restraints" and the possession of"a larger measure of that hope which springs eternal in the human breast," accounted for the fact that women "were less prone to commit suicide ... than men." (61) From a more secular point of view, a writer in London's The Contemporary Review (1883) explained "that three-fourths of the cases [of suicide] are males, which shows that if the female intellect be less powerful than man's, it is at the same time better balanced, or at least more capable of standing against reverses of fortune, and facing the battle of life." (62)
Even when Darwinian metaphors replaced earlier nostalgic portrayals of family life, conclusions were familiar. "It is easy to understand the great male preponderance [of suicide]," wrote Morselli in 1879. "The difficulties of existence, those at least which proceed from the struggle for life, bear more heavily on man. Woman," insisted Morselli, "only shares in these through the affections, and although she has a more impressionable nervous temperament, yet possesses the faculty of resigning herself more easily to circumstances." (63) "The comparative immunity of the female sex from self-destruction," according to Strahan in 1893, "depends in part upon the relatively less harassing part she takes in the struggle for existence; in part upon the less indulgent and vicious life she leads; and in part upon her lack of courage and natural repugnance to personal violence and disfigurement." (64)
No matter what the statistics showed, the fact remained that some women committed suicide. Commentators explained this in two ways. First, they insisted that the motives for male and female suicides were very different. Suicide among women was portrayed as an individual emotional act and, thus inconsequential, while male suicide was seen as a barometer of national economic and social well-being. Second, building on the first assumption, because male suicide was a consequence of the stresses inherent in men's roles and responsibilities (i. e., the price of "civilization"), female suicide occurred when women deviated from their less conflicted (traditional) roles. (65)
The contrast between men's and women's motives reflected what Barbara Welter described as the "Cult of True Womanhood," in which failure by a woman to adhere to the virtues of"piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity ... brought on madness or death." (66) Although Welter was describing American attitudes, she could have as easily turned to France for confirmation of her argument. (67) Again, Esquirol's explanations were emblematic: "Women kill themselves more rarely than men," he wrote in 1821, and when they do, "more often it is [amorous] passion which impels them to this aberration." (68) Back in the United States, an anonymous "Southern Physician," wrote in The Whig Review in 1847 that "in men, real or fancied impotence is very apt to induce self-destruction;--and among women, we cannot help always suspecting the dread of the consequences of secret loss of honor." (69) Three decades later Rhodes explained that women committed suicide for very different motives from those of men: "Women appear to be more subject to moral influences, such as disappointed love, betrayal, desertion, jealousy, domestic trouble, and sentimental exaltation of every description." Men, on the other hand, "are rather affected by trials of a material order, such as misery, business embarrassments, losses, ungratified ambition." (70) Morselli found that men's suicides were caused by "financial embarrassments," "weariness of life," and other "egoistical motives, whilst among women, after mental diseases, there predominate passions, domestic troubles, shame and remorse." In contrast to men, explained Morselli, "among the causes which urge them to leave this life women always exhibit that spirit of self-denial, that delicacy of feeling and of love, which inspire all her acts." (71)
Popular nineteenth-century fiction had reinforced these characterizations in such works as Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance (1852), Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1857), Leo Tolstoi's Anna Karenina (1875), and Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth (1905). In all these texts an illicit love affair led the despairing woman to the only honorable (and predictable) resolution--suicide.
This was, of course, a literary convention, but one that gained credence from its similarity to nineteenth-century French, British, and American newspaper accounts which invariably connected women's suicide to real and imagined loss of purity. (72)
If a women's suicide could not be attributed to dishonor, it invariably was tied to women's adopting roles that nature and society had assigned to men. When women left the security of their families, explained Brierre de Boismont in 1856, they substantially increased their risk of suicide. (73) The higher suicide rates of women who "take an active part in the business of life," according to an 1883 English essay entitled "Insanity, Suicide, and Civilization," "serve as a caution to prevent them from taking part in politics, or matters best suited for men." (74) "It has been observed," wrote the American Richard N. Reeves in 1897, "that as woman approaches man in her mode of life she also becomes more familiar with those abnormal conditions which have previously been peculiar to man." This leads to an increase in suicide among women because "the comparative immunity of women from self-destruction in the past has depended greatly upon the relatively less harassing part she has taken in the struggle for life." As women moved "deeper into ... vocations," such as "art, literature, finance, and even politics," they "must expect to suffer the consequences. Already," Reeves warned, "it is noticeable that feminine suicide is not entirely due to the sentimental causes of disappointed love, desertion, and jealousy, but to those trials of a more material order such as have led men to the act of self-destruction." (75)
By the end of the century, joining the chorus of his French and American cousins, Reginald Skelton summed up the view which had become commonplace:
Though every woman has to traverse certain critical periods in her
lifetime, which are dangerous both to her bodily and mental condition, yet
she is exempt from many of the factors most favourable to suicide. Her
affection for home and children is greater, and the religious sentiment
has diminished less in woman than in man; her intellectual faculties are
usually less developed, and hence also her sensibility to mental pain;
inured to continual petty troubles, her patience is fortified to resist
greater ones. It is without surprise, therefore, that we learn that there
are four times as many men as women suicides. In the large towns, however,
these factors tending to the exemption of women from suicide largely
Durkheim and Women
Nineteenth-century assumptions about women and suicide were codified in Durkheim's Suicide: A Study in Sociology (1897). Although Durkheim was not a physician, his work, nevertheless, serves as one of the best expressions of nineteenth-century medical thinking about suicide. (77) As historian Dominick LaCapra pointed out, "Durkheim was concerned with healing, not salvation. His fascination with medical metaphors attested to this fact." Durkheim saw himself as "the doctor who lucidly diagnosed the ills of society and prescribed rational remedies." (78) As Durkheim explained in The Rules of the Sociological Method (1895), he hoped that his sociology would transform the statesman into "the physician [who] ... prevents the outbreak of illnesses by good hygiene, and [who] ... seeks to cure them when they have appeared." (79)
Along with his medical and moral predecessors, Durkheim assumed that "mental illnesses go hand in hand with civilization" and that insanity was more common "in towns than the countryside, and in large rather than small towns." And Durkheim too connected suicide with modernity. What appeared to be suicide among primitive people, he characterized as not "an act of despair but of abnegation.... On the contrary, true suicide, the suicide of sadness, is an endemic state among civilized persons." Its incidence is a function of "the level of civilization," with the greatest numbers of suicides among the most developed societies. "Everywhere," wrote Durkheim, "suicide is more prevalent in towns than in the country-side. Civilization is concentrated in large towns, as is suicide." (80)
Given these views, it was not surprising that Durkheim reached the same conclusions that his predecessors had about the protective influence of the traditional family against suicide. In an 1888 essay entitled "Suicide et Natalite: Etude de Statistique Morale," Durkheim linked low birthrates in France to increases in the rate of suicide: "If suicide progresses when the birthrate declines," wrote Durkheim, "it is that these two phenomena are equally due in part to a decline of domestic sentiments." (81) "All facts," he insisted, "demonstrate that where the family exists, it protects against suicide and that it has even more of this protective force when it is ... dense enough." From this perspective, a low birthrate led to the weakening of the family. And, Durkheim found, those areas with the least population growth experienced the highest rates of suicide. A "good birthrate" was "only possible where ... domestic solidarity" was chosen over a life of "material ease." (82) Thus, the more children a family produced, the safer its members were from self-destruction: "In these conditions in fact," concluded
Durkheim, "the individual becomes part of the solid mass with which he is unified and which multiples his strengths: his power of resistance is thus increased. The less isolated he is, the much stronger he is for the struggle." But, Durkheim warned, "where on the contrary families are sparse, poor, or meager, individuals, less closely joined to one another, allow spaces between them where the cold wind of egoism blows freezing their hearts and weakening their courage." (83) Because the health of society depended upon the density of families, women were expected to be mothers of many children. And by extension, women were healthiest and least prone to suicide themselves to the extent that they were subsumed in traditional roles: "Woman is less concerned than man in the civilizing process," Durkheim asserted in 1893, "she participates less in it and draws less benefit from it. She more recalls certain characteristics to be found in primitive natures." (84) These presumptions alone go far in explaining why Durkheim assumed that women were "naturally" immune to suicide.
Durkheim's assertion in Le Suicide that "in all the countries of the world, women commit suicide less than men," was based then, not only on the statistical data of his predecessors, but also on their gendered assumptions. (85) Thus, Durkheim attributed what he called the relative immunity of women to suicide to the fact that women were "fundamentally traditionalist by nature, they govern their conduct," Durkheim asserted, "by fixed beliefs and have no great intellectual needs." (86) Although Durkheim insisted that his explanation for the incidence of suicide rested on purely social factors, throughout his study he also ascribed the low incidence of women's suicide to organic influences. (87) For instance, in explaining the immunity of women to suicide, Durkheim concluded that "being a more instinctive creature than man, woman has only to follow her instincts to find calmness and peace." (88)
Indeed, whenever it came to issues of gender, Durkheim's sociology was displaced by biologisms. (89) In The Division of Labor in Society (1893), drawing upon Lamarck's "law of use and disuse" and Gustave Le Bon's neo-Lamarckian writings, Durkheim argued that as the division of labor increasingly separated men from women in modern societies it had the effect of enlarging men's brains (and intelligence) while diminishing women's:
labor became increasingly divided up ... between the sexes. At first
limited to the sexual functions alone, it gradually extended to many other
functions. The woman had long withdrawn from warfare and public affairs,
and had centered her existence entirely round the family. Since then her
role has become even more specialized. Nowadays, among civilized peoples
the woman leads an existence entirely different from the man's. It might
be said that the two great functions of psychological life had become as
if dissociated from each other, one sex having overcome the affective, the
other the intellectual function. These sexual divisions in labor, Durkheim asserted, were "made perceptible physically by the morphological differences they have brought about." As a result, "not only are the size, weight and general shape very dissimilar as between a man and a woman, but, as Dr Lebon has shown, ... with the advance of civilization the brain of the two sexes has increasingly developed differently." Thus, explained Durkheim, "the progressive gap" between men and women "may be due both to the considerable development of the male skull and to a cessation, even a regression in the growth of the female skull." (90)
All the preceding suggests that, at least when it came to issues of gender, Durkheim's view of suicide was less novel a contribution than a restatement of a widely accepted convention. Durkheim's conventional views on women's intelligence and social roles may seem somewhat perplexing to those familiar with his sometimes otherwise unconventional views (for fin-de-siecle). For instance, in The Division of Labor in Society (1893), Durkheim suggested that traditional moral values could no longer effectively regulate modern, industrial society. Unlike many of his more nostalgic contemporaries, Durkheim sought adoption of a moral system more attuned to the social realities of modern life. (91) To a great extent, a similar project underlay and informed much of Durkheim's Suicide. Nevertheless, a number of scholars have found Durkheim's assumptions to be more conservative than his rhetoric. (92) Nowhere does that conservatism display itself more clearly than in Durkheim's discussion of gender. This resulted, in part, from Durkheim's failure to extend the logic of his social critique of morality to the issue of women's suicide. But, (as I will argue) this was no mere oversight, for Durkheim's entire project rested on assumptions about the (natural) immunity of women to suicide. If Durkheim had challenged this notion, the foundation of the rest of his enterprise would have been considerably undermined.
What was new, then, in Durkheim's Suicide was not his presentation of the etiological role of social disintegration or the immunity of women to suicide, but a definition and a classificatory system (typology) which allowed him to use the incidence of suicide as a yardstick for social pathology. (93)
Durkheim's definition of suicide as "death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result" was, on the one hand, irrelevant to the statistics he used, while, on the other, it ensured that suicidal behavior by women could not be considered as suicide. (94) It was irrelevant because all of Durkheim's conclusions about the incidence of suicide were drawn from official statistics which defined suicide in ways that were incompatible with Durkheim's definition. For instance, those who sacrificed their lives for others ("un acte positif") were never listed as suicides in official statistics. And, those whose deaths resulted only "indirectly" from their acts generally did not appear in the statistics either. (95) Indeed, Durkheim must have known that those officials charged with the determination of whether an act was a suicide almost always labeled antisocial (socially disintegrative) acts as suicide, while they almost never called a socially sanctioned (integrative) behavior (heroism) suicide. The unquestioned assumption that suicide was an antisocial act was, after all, why Durkheim had chosen it as an indicator of social pathology in the first place. Apparently Durkheim never considered the possibility that the belief--shared by official statistics collectors and interpreters of suicide--that suicide was antisocial behavior had, a priori, distorted suicide statistics.
In addition, Durkheim's definition guaranteed that attempted suicide, the most commonly acknowledged women's suicidal behavior, would be excluded from consideration. (96) For, although Durkheim admitted that attempted suicide fit his definition of suicide as a behavior, he excluded it from his typology because attempted suicide fell "short of actual death." (97) By confining his categories to completed suicides, Durkheim excluded most suicidal behavior by women from subsequent investigations of suicide. If he had included attempted suicides, women rather than men would have emerged as the group at greatest risk of self-destructive behavior. (98)
Moreover, data just as good (or just as bad) as those on completed suicides were available had Durkheim's preconceptions not prevented him from considering them. For instance, beginning in 1826 (until 1961) the French Administration de la justice criminelle (under the direction of le Ministere de la sante) published suicide statistics that made no distinction between attempted and successful suicides ("suicides tentes ou effectues"). In the nineteenth century these were published in the Annales d'hygiene, which recorded the incidence of suicide (including, but not separating out attempted suicides) by age and by sex. Although these statistics suffered from the same weaknesses as data on completed suicides, there was no "objective" reason why they could not have been considered. (99)
The decision to exclude attempted suicide from consideration was odd because the entire enterprise of the sociological study of suicide was aimed at describing social behavior. Certainly, attempting to kill oneself must be considered suicidal behavior. Yet, suicidologists since Durkheim have relied on statistics which, by defining only completed suicide as suicide, have effectively eliminated the majority of suicidal behavior from their analysis of suicidal behavior. (100)
The data on attempted suicide could have been used to demonstrate that women were less content with their social roles than men were. Curiously, no suicide study has ever come to that conclusion. Thus, while suicidologists continue to refine their statistical methods, they rarely have questioned the assumption that only completed or successful suicides should constitute the data base for suicidal behavior. (101)
If Durkheim's definition of suicide ensured that women's suicidal behavior would be trivialized, his typology guaranteed that even those women who completed suicide would be excluded from the suicide equation. (102) That is, in creating a "scientific" sociology Durkheim enshrined the unquestioned assumptions about both the effects of modernity and the immunity of women to suicide. Thus, Durkheim's classificatory system contributed to and sustained the under-reporting of women's completed suicides. (103)
Although Durkheim described four types of suicide--altruistic, egoistic, anomic, and fatalistic--he elaborated only the first three and assigned the fourth, fatalistic, to a footnote. Because Durkheim wanted to demonstrate that the rate of suicide provided a way to measure social pathology, his typology was created to uncover the "regular and specific factor[s] in suicide in our modern societies." As Durkheim defined them, both anomie and egoism resulted from the collapse of traditional restraints and, thus, their incidence could be used as an index for social pathology: the rate of anomic suicide measured alienation, while the rate of egoistic measured the decline of self-restraint. Altruistic suicide, on the other hand, reflected socially sanctioned self-sacrifice and, as such, provided the base rate of suicide against which Durkheim could contrast the increase of suicide brought on by the breakdown of social integration (which he attributed to anomic and egoistic behavior). (104) Of course, given the reality of social statistics, the reported number of anomic and egoistic suicides would always be significantly greater than altruistic suicides. But, as we shall see, there could be almost no fatalistic suicide.
As Durkheim explained in his footnote, fatalism "derives from excessive regulation, that of persons with futures pitilessly blocked and passions violently choked by oppressive discipline." Durkheim declined to look in detail at fatalistic suicide because he claimed that "it has so little contemporary importance and examples are so hard to find ... that it seems useless to dwell upon it." (105)
Durkheim's definition of fatalism described the psychological and social condition of many nineteenth-century women. Like those before him, Durkheim assumed that, as an anti-social act, suicide was exacerbated by social disintegration. Accepting the belief that traditional family life offered the best safeguard against suicidal behavior, Durkheim never questioned the supposition that those most subsumed in the family (women and children) would be most immune to suicide. (106) Given this paradigm, suicide and integrative (women's) behavior--what Durkheim labeled "fatalism"--were opposites. Because social integration was alleged to be the cure for suicidal ideation, there was no way for Durkheim to suppose that suicide could be a female behavior. Thus, classifying women's suicide as fatalistic guaranteed that women would be defined a priori as immune to suicide.
But, on its own terms, did Durkheim's data demonstrate that those who were most subsumed in particular social institutions were more immune to suicide than those who were less "socially integrated"? The answer is much more ambiguous than Durkheim and his predecessors were willing to admit. For, even accepting the equivocal data that women completed suicide less frequently than men, the high rate of attempted suicide by women, suggested that suicidal behavior was a common way for women to express their profound unhappiness. Given the social role of most nineteenth-century women, it is fair to assume that submersion in the family provided no special protection for women from suicidal behavior. (107) And, although his evidence was no more "value free" than Durkheim's, Steinmetz (1894) found that women living in the most socially integrated (primitive) societies had a greater incidence of suicide than men. (108)
The greatest challenge to the belief that social integration provided protection from suicide, however, came from Durkheim's own data. Official statistics consistently reported that the highest rates of suicide were in the military. "It is a general fact in all European countries," wrote Durkheim, "that the suicidal aptitude of soldiers is much higher than that of the civilian population of the same age." (109) Durkheim's definition of fatalistic suicide as resulting "from excessive regulation," whose "passions [were] violently choked by oppressive discipline," seemed to describe nineteenth-century military life perfectly. Durkheim's understanding of official statistics and his own typological definitions could have led him to classify military suicide as fatalistic. Given the reported incidence of military suicide, Durkheim could have concluded that fatalism was the most important type of suicide. (110)
Durkheim, however, overcame the obvious inconsistency that military suicide exposed for his typology by arbitrarily classifying military suicide as "altruistic," even though the greatest number of reported military suicides could hardly be attributed to self-sacrifice. (111) Given his familiarity with suicide statistics, Durkheim must have known that those who sacrificed their lives for their military comrades in battle were never categorized as a suicide in any official statistics. Indeed, to be reported as a suicide, a military death would have to have occured outside a combat situation.
Durkheim was not the only commentator who was forced to perform logical and classificatory gymnastics to account for the extraordinary rate of military suicide. Skelton, whose explanations for the immunity of women to suicide mirrored Durkheim's, tied what he found to be the "truly appalling" rates of military suicides to "training" which "is essentially destructive of individualism." Laying out a pattern of socialization that could have as easily described women as it did soldiers, Skelton attributed military suicide to the fact that a soldier "learns to consider himself a mere unit in a huge aggregate of individuals.... The soldier's very trade consists in placing at the disposal of others that of all possessions most valued by man--his life. Is it, then, surprising that he should have less hesitation than other men in removing it?" (112)
Given their assumptions about the "nature of women" and the prophylactic impact of family life, neither Skelton nor Durkheim could acknowledge the parallels that they had drawn between soldiers' and women's social situations. The point, of course, is not that women's and soldiers' socialization was the same, for it was not. Rather, Durkheim's description and discussions of military suicide fit into his category of fatalism more clearly than it fit into altruism. The reason that Durkheim could not see this was that he was tied to a set of rules that assumed that high rates of suicide were attached to the anomie and egoism brought on by modern urban life. If military suicide were categorized as fatalistic, Durkheim would have had to question his basic assumptions. This he could not do because it seemed self-evident to him that low rates of suicide were associated with social integration. Since fatalism was attached to social integration, women's low rates of suicide could be categorized as fatalistic--so infrequent a cause, as hardly worthy of notice. Because the high rate of military suicide (at least Durkheim and most others believed it to be high) (113) could not be attributed to modernity, it was placed in a special category, altruism, which effectively eliminated it from consideration. (114) Altruism became the baseline of suicide that all societies could condone--sacrifice for others.
This is not to suggest that Durkheim, (or for that matter, Morselli, Masaryk, or Skelton) consciously set out to distort evidence. Rather, Durkheim was bound to a set of assumptions that framed his conclusions before he began his research. Given these assumptions, it would have been surprising if Durkheim had reached different conclusions. Thus, Durkheim's typology sanctioned the anti-modernity and nostalgia that had "discovered" the suicide "problem" in the first place. His sociology provided (and continues to provide) "scientific" justification for traditional assumptions about women's behavior. (115) Had it been otherwise, Durkheim's Suicide might never have achieved the overwhelming influence that it has.
No conspiracy existed to exclude women's suicides from consideration. Rather, we must return to the rules that shaped Western considerations of suicide in the first place. That is, the fear of modernity was based upon a set of nostalgic beliefs that identified the growth of urban society as a challenge to traditional (patriarchal) authority. In this context, the motivation for the collection and analysis of suicide rates was to illustrate that modernity caused self-destructive behavior. Given these preconceptions, it was assumed that women were insulated from suicide to the extent that they were subsumed within the bounds of traditional family life. In other words, given the set of rules for defining and classifying suicide, there was no way in which suicide could have been seen as a female behavior. By refusing to reexamine these assumptions about women's roles and behavior, Durkheimian sociology was doomed to endorse the underlying values that Durkheim had hoped to challenge. As a result, neither Durkheim nor his followers could construct a classificatory system or adopt a methodology that would expose traditional life to the same scrutiny that they had insisted upon when it came to modernity.
Although this paper has concerned itself with suicide statistics, it has broader implications for social historians. For, this example clearly serves to reenforce Joan Scott's caveat that statistics "are neither totally neutral collections of fact nor simply ideological impositions. Rather they are ways of establishing the authority of certain visions of social order, or organizing perceptions of "experience'". (116)
Department of History San Diego, CA 92182
Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, May 10-13, 1990 and at the First European Congress On the History of Psychiatry and Mental Health Care, s'Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, 23-26 October, 1990. The author would like to thank Elizabeth Colwill, Lisa Lieberman, Carol R. Kushner, Fred Matthews, and David L. Ransel for their critical comments. All translations from French are the author's, unless otherwise noted.
(1.) "Il y a long-temps qu'on a dit que la folie est maladie de la civilisation." Jean-Etienne Esquirol, "De La Lypemanie ou Melancolie," reprinted in Des maladies mentales, 2 vols. (Paris, 1838), 1: 400-01. By mid-century this view had become commonplace. For instance, the American alienist Edward Jarvis attributed insanity to "the price we pay for civilization. The causes of the one increase with the developments and results of the other." Edward Jarvis, M. D., "On the Supposed Increase of Insanity," American Journal of Insanity 8 (April 1852): 333-364, esp. 364.
(2.) For more see Theodore M. Porter, The Rise of Statistical Thinking, 1820-1900 (Princeton, 1986), 18-70, esp. 28-31, 36-39; Marie-Noelle Bourguet, Dechiffrer la France: La statistique departementale a l'epoque napoleonienne (Paris, 1989), 218-224, 274-279.
(3.) "Suicide," writes Barbara Gates, "took on the status of trope quite readily." It "became an indicator of social illness, a measure of what was wrong with late Victorian Britain and her institutions." Barbara T. Gates, Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories (Princeton, 1988), 155. See also Ian Hacking, The Taming of Chance (Cambridge, 1990), 64-72.
(4.) Because the term "discourse" has become over-used and misunderstood, I have avoided using it. Many scholars have legitimately complained that it has become jargon that obscures rather than illuminates meaning. Nevertheless, "discourse" can have a precise and useful meaning that fits with what I am describing here: that is, as originally defined by Michel Foucault, a discourse is a system (or set of rules) that makes knowledge possible. See Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of The Human Sciences (New York, 1970), 125-165. The fact that Foucault subsequently altered his definition of discourse, along with other terms, does not detract from the power of his original intention, but it does make it difficult for scholars to agree upon a common meaning of the term.
(5.) Emile Durkheim, Suicide: A Study in Sociology,  translated by John A. Spaulding and George Simpson (Glencoe, Ill, 1951), 166. Unlike many classic texts, Durkheim's Suicide remains, in the words of French sociologists Christian Baudelot and Roger Establet, "un livre vivant. Et rares, en sciences sociales, les ouvrages qui survivent a leurs auteurs ou circonstances historiques qui ont motive leur publication. Le Suicide est une exception." Christian Baudelot et Roger Establet, Durkheim et le Suicide (Paris, 1984), 9.
(6.) For instance, in their critical reexamination and reformulation of Durkheim's Suicide (1897), Baudelot and Establet concluded that "la protection dont beneficie un individu a l'egard du suicide est fonction du nombre et de la profondeur des relations qu'il noue avec son milieu familial." p. 101. See Baudelot et Establet, Durkheim et le Suicide, 99-104. For more on how this view continues to inform experts' thinking about suicide see Howard I. Kushner, Self-Destruction in the Promised Land: A Psychocultural Biology of American Suicide (New Brunswick, NJ, 1989), (republished [New Brunswick, 1991] as American Suicide: A Psychocultured Exploration), 100-101.
(7.) Gender is used here as the grammatical way of describing the properties associated with the distinctions of sex. As historian Joan W. Scott has pointed out, gender is "a constitutive element of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes" as well as "a primary way of signifying relationships of power." By providing a grammatical awareness of how we select and interpret data, gendered analyses expose the unspoken rules that inform these definitions. As Scott argues, gender "provides a way to decode meaning and to understand the complex connections among various forms of human interaction." Joan W. Scott, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis," American Historical Review 91 (December 1986): 1053-1075, esp. 1067, 1070. See also Joan Wallach Scott, Gender and the Politics of History, (New York, 1988), esp. 2-8; and Linda Alcoff, "Cultural Feminism Versus Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist: Theory," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 13 (1988): 404-436.
(8.) "Mine Eares do tingle, to hear so many sad Relations," wrote Denny, "concerning Severall Persons of diverse Rank, and Quality, inhabiting within and about ... London, that have made away, and Murder'd Themselves." William Denny, Signs: Pelecanicidium: or the Christian Adviser against: Self-Murder (London, 1653), quotation is from Book I, 1.
(9.) Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire, "De Caton et Du Suicide," Dictionnaire philosophique, II, dans les Oeuvres Completes de Voltaire, tome 38 (Paris, 1774), 394.
(10.) Jean Dumas, Traite du Suicide ou du meurte volontaire de soi-meme (Amsterdam, 1773), 2.
(11.) Louis Sebastien Mercier, Tableau de Paris, nouvelle edition, (Amsterdam, 1783) tome III, 188.
(12.) Elizabeth Colwill, "Transforming "Women's Empire': Representations of Women in French Political Culture, 1770-1807," unpublished Ph.D, dissertation, State University of New York at Binghamton, 1991.
(13.) Judith DeGroat, "The Work and Lives of Women in Parisian Manufacturing Trades, 1830-1848," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Rochester, 1991. Also see Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York 1789-1860 (New York, 1986).
(14.) J.L. Reichardt, Un hiver a Paris, 1802 1803: Sous le Consular (Paris, 1896), 438-439.
(15.) Samuel Miller, The Guilt:, Folly, and Sources of Suicide: Two Discourses (New York, 1805), 13, 54-57. Also see Joseph Lathrop, Two Sermons on the Atrocity of Suicide and the Causes Which Lead to It (Springfield, MA, 1805), 17-36.
(16.) For a discussion of the origins and development of t:he moral treatment in France see Jan Goldstein, Console and Classify; The French Psychiatric Profession in the Nineteenth Century (New York, 1987), 65-56, 80-119. For Britain see Andrew Scull, Museums of Madness: The Social Organization of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century England (New York, 1979) and Scull, "Moral Treatment Reconsidered: Some Sociological Comments on an Episode in the History of British Psychiatry," in Scull, ed., Madhouses, Mad-Doctors, and Madmen: The Social History of Psychiatry in the Victorian Era (Philadelphia, 1981) 107- 118. For the U. S. see Constance M. McGovem, Masters of Madness: Social Origins of the American Psychiatric Profession (Hanover, NH, 1985), 62-85; Charles E. Rosenberg, "The Therapeutic Revolution: Medicine, Meaning, and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century America," in The Therapeutic Revolution: Essays in the Social History of Medicine, edited by Morris J. Vogel and Charles E. Rosenberg, (Philadelphia, 1979), 5-6; Rosenberg, "The Cause of Cholera: Aspects of Etiological Thought in 19th-Century America," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 34 (July/August 1960): 331-333 and Kushner, Self-Destruction in the Promised Land, 37-51.
(17.) "La civilisation joue un grand role dans la production du suicide et des alienations mentales en general. Et comment en serait-il autrement? Les lesions d'un organe ne sont-elles pas t:oujours en rapport avec le nombre et l'dnergie des causes d'excitation auxquelles il est expose? Or, par les progres de la civilisation, les fonctions du cerveau ne se trouvent:-elles pas plus actives? La multiplicite des personnes instruites n'entraine-t-elle pas necessairement a des efforts prodigieux de l'emrit? Les passions n'ont-elles pas un surcroit de violence, les desirs ne sont-ils pas plus imperieux a une epoque ou il est plus difficile de les satisfaire? Aussi voyons que la mort volontaire, frequente en Angleterre, en France, en Italie et en Allemagne, est presque inconnue dans les vastes contre es de empire des czars. Jean-Pierre Falret de l'Hypochondrie et du Suicide (Paris, 1822), 76-77 93-94. For Falret's discussion of "ennui" see 104-111.
(18.) M. Brouc, "Considerations sur les suicides de notre epoque," Annales d'hygiene publique et de medecine legale 16 (1836): 252, 261.
(19.) Louis Bertrand, Traite du Suicide: considere dans ses rapports avec la philosophie, la theologie, la medecine, et la jurisprudence, (Paris, 1857), 93.
(20.) Forbes Winslow, The Anatomy of Suicide (London, 1840; reprint Boston, 1978), 338.
(21.) Jean-Etienne Esquirol, "Du Suicide," (1821) reprinted and revised in Des maladies mentales, 1:588-590.
(22.) For instance, the American Journal of Insanity printed both reviews and extensive excerpts of European works on suicide. See reviews of Gustave-Francois Etoc-Demazv, (Recherches Statistiques sur le suicide appliques a l'hygiene publique et a la medicine legale [Paris, 1844]) reviewed in 1 (April 1845), 383; Brierre de Boismont, [Du Suicide et de la folie suicide] reviewed in 12 (April 1856): 351-353; and Bertrand, [Traite du Suicide] reviewed in 14 (October 1857): 207-214. Reprints included the work of British epidemiologist John Netten Radcliffe, "The Aesthetics of Suicide "ibid., 16 (April 1860), 385-409, originally published in Journal of Psychological Medicine 12 (October 1859): 582-602. On the French side, Brierre de Boismont drew on Brigham's American statistics for evidence of the role of urban forces in the increase of suicides. See Brierre de Boismont, "De l'influence de la civilisation sur la suicide," Annales d'hygiene, 2, 2nd series (1855), 164-165; and Du Suicide et de la Folie Suicide. Consideres dans leurs Rapports avec la Statistique, la Medicine et la Philosophie, (Paris, 1856), 370-371.
(23.) Briere de Boismont, "De l'influence de la civilisation sur la suicide," pp. 179-180; citation of Brigham see 164-165; Brierre de Boismont republished this essay in Du suicide et de la folie suicide, in chapter 5, "De l'nfluence de la civilisation sur le developpement du suicide," 352-389; text quoted 386-387; Brigham, 370-371.
(24.) "On Suicide," Journal of Psychological Medicine 11 (1858): 419-420.
(25.) Le Suicide est egalement soumis a une o, laquelle differe essentiellement de la loi de criminalite. Le penchant au Suicide, plus ou moins developpe des enfance croit sensiblement vers l'age adulte, et va eontinuellement en augmentant jusqu a la vieillesse la plus reculee. Cette loi, qui se verifie, d'annee en annee, comporte une probabilite presque aussi forte que la loi de la mortalite ordinaire. Il y a plus: non-seulement les suicides sont a peu pres, chaque annee en meme nombre: mais, en separant par groupes et d'apres les instruments qui servent a leur execution, on trouve encore la meme constance. Adolphe Quetelet, Du systeme social et des lois qui le regissent, (Paris, 1848), 88-89 [italics in original].
(26.) For a parallel example of how preconceived values framed statistical investigations see Joan Wallach Scott, "A Statistical Representation of Work, La Statistique de l'industrie & Paris," in Scott, Gender in History, 113-138.
(27.) Jean-Baptiste Cazauvieilh, Du Suicide. de l'alienation mentale et des crimes contre les personnes, compares dans leur rapports reciproques (Paris, 1840), 2-3, 250. Also see Brierre de Boismont, Du Suicide et la folie suicide, 359.
(28.) See for instance Brierre de Boismont's discussion in which he explained that Cazauvieilh had demonstrated that increases in rural suicides resulted from the influence of urban culture on rural life: "Accroissement successif du chiffre des suicides, influence morale de Paris et des grands centres sur ce resultat, predominance de l'element urbain sur l'element rural, tels sont les faits qui semblent demontrer l'action exercee par la civilisation." Brierre de Boismont, Du suicide et de la folie suicide, 359. Morselli, on the other hand, faithfully reproduced Cazauvieilh's conclusions, but disputed his findings. See Henry Morselli, Suicide: An Essay on Comparative Moral Statistics (New York, 1882), 174. See also Anthony Giddens, "The Suicide Problem in French Sociology," British Journal of Sociology 16 (March, 1965): 4 (fn 10).
(29.) Brigham asserted that "as many [suicides] have been committed some years in the city of New York alone, as are assigned to the whole State." Statistics of Suicides in the United States," American Journal of Insanity 1 (January 1845): 232-234.
(30.) Hunt elaborated: "We certainly have no right to infer that because one weekly newspaper has furnished a record of 184 suicides, that every other contains an equal number. Indeed," wrote Hunt, "the inference is legitimate that a weekly published in the largest city of the country, and containing--as does that from which my list of cases was taken--all the reading matter ... of the daily for the previous six days, will contain a much larger number than those of a similar character in other respects, but published elsewhere." E. K. Hunt, M. D. "Statistics of Suicides in the United States," American Journal of Insanity, 1 (January 1845): 231-232.
(31.) Not much has changed in regard to suicide statistics since Brigham's time. Most contemporary studies begin with a caveat about the unreliability of suicide statistics and then proceed to ignore their own warnings. For a recent typical example see Patrick W., O'Carroll, "A Consideration of the Validity and Reliability of Suicide Mortality Data," Suicide & Life-Threatening Behavior 19, no. 1 (Spring 1989): 1-16. O'Carroll admits that "there is an enormous body of literature that questions the validity and reliability, and thus the usefulness of suicide mortality statistics." Nevertheless, he insists that "there are, of course, a number of compelling reasons to use suicide mortality data. These data have been collected over many years in most countries on earth, allowing temporal and international comparisons" (1). Also see Mark C. Stafford and Ralph A. Weisheit, "Changing Age Patterns of U. S. Male and Female Suicide Rates, 1934-1983, Suicide & Life-Threatening Behavior 18, no. 3 (Summer 1988): 149-63. "Although there are persistent doubts about the validity of suicide data (e. g. Douglas, 1967; Hooper & Guttmacher, 1979)," Stafford and Weisheit conclude that "there is no practical alternative to using them."
(32) Brigham and his colleagues connected the alleged increase in suicide to the disorganization that they had attributed to urban life. Discovering that "the occurrence of suicide has been more than four times as frequent in the city of New York, as in all other parts of the State, the Journal suggested a mathematical formula for the calculation of urban suicide: "in great cities when compared with the country, all human passions are exercised with more than fourfold constancy and intensity, and that reverse of fortune and disappointments of desire, are more frequent by fourfold, and are accompanied by a shock of the intellect or affections, more than four times as severe, and by more than four times the liability to that temporary or continued overthrow of reason, which induces self-destruction." These "reflections," the editor concluded, "should teach the countryman longing for the town, contentment, and should warn the dwellers in cities, of the vast importance of the most rigid discipline both of body and mind." "Statistics of Suicides," American Journal of Insanity 4 (January 1848): 247-249 (italics in original).
(33.) Petit, Recherches statistiques de l'etiologie du suicide. Tableaux synoptiques, These. (Paris, 1850), in Brierre de Boismont, Du suicide et de la folie suicide, p. 84. Similar views are, found in Gustave-Francois Etoc-Demazy, Recherches Statistiques sur le suicide, appliques a l'hygiene publique et a la medicine legale, (Paris, 1844).
(34.) Brierre de Boismont, Du suicide et de la folie suicide, 358. Brierre de Boismont cited both Brigham's and Petit's studies in Du suicide et de la folie suicide (pp. 84, 370-371) and in his essay "De l'influence de la civilisation sur la suicide," 151-152, 164-165. For more on Brierre de Boismont see Ian Dowbiggin, "French Psychiatry and the Search for a Professional Identity: The Societe Medico-Psychologique, 1840-1870," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 63 (Fall 1989): 348.
(35.) H.T. "Suicide and Suicidal Insanity," American Journal of Insanity 12 (April 1856): 352.
(36.) Thus, the French writer and politician Marc Saint-Marc Girardin proclaimed in 1843 that "si, de nos jours, les artisans sont, helas! atteints eux-memes de la maladie du suicide, cela tient a ce que leur intelligence est sans cesse agacee et aigrie par la science et la civilisation modernes." Marc Saint-Marc Girardin, Cours de Litterature Dramatique, ou de l'usage des passions dans le drame 5 vols. (Paris, 1843) 1; 90 (italics added). Saint-Marc Girardin also made the more general connection between the modern and "primitive" societes: "Ausi, y at-il plus de suicides chez les peuples civilises que chez les peuples barbares, et on a remarque qu'en Orient il n'y avait de suicides que despuis l'influence qu'y ont prise les idees europeennes. (89)
(37.) In rural America, the Times, explained, men and women were so wrapped up in their daily chores that they had no time for any mischievous thoughts of ropes, razors and morphine." Transfer these same people to cities, warned the editorial, and a combination of rising aspirations, leisure time, and temptations to vice would form the train of causes that lead to self-destruction." Urban life encouraged "the use of intoxicating beverages, the inordinate consumption of tobacco, the use of opium," and "nocturnal dissipation and the infamous solitary vices that blazon themselves publicly in the shrunken, pale and prematurely-aged faces of so many young men." These conditions "are sowing for us a horrid harvest of suicides at an early day." "A chapter of Suicides," New York Times, August 3, 1859, 8:2; The Alarming Increase of Suicides," ibid., 4:4.
(38.) C. Nordoff, "A Matter of Life and Death," Harper's New Monthly Magazine 18 (March 1859): 516-520, esp. 516, 519.
(39.) "The preponderance of suicides" in citrus, this author asserted, "is not exclusively a product of the greater suffering they contain in comparison with the, country, but also, and quite as much, of the lesser disposition to support that suffering. "Suicide," Littel's Living Age 146 (July 10, 1880): 71-72, reprinted from Frederick Marshall, "Suicide," Blackwood's Magazine (June 1880): 719-735).
(40.) J. Brand, "Is Suicide a Sign of Civilization?" Pearson's Magazine 2 (July-December 1896): 666-667.
(41.) Reginald A. Skelton, "Statistics of Suicide, "The Nineteenth Century 48 (September 1900): 466-467. Also see Gates, Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories, 152-157.
(42.) "The whole cure is ... preventive, and is contained," wrote Morselli, "in this one precept: To develop in man the power of well-ordering sentiments and ideas by which to reach a certain aim in life; in short, to give force and energy to the moral character. Like his predecessors, Morselli found that "the proportion of suicides in all Europe is greater amongst the condensed population of urban centres than amongst the more scattered inhabitants of the country. Henry Morselli, Suicide: An Essay on Comparative Moral Statistics (New York, 1882), 29, 13, 169, 354, 373-374 (italics in original). Morselli's book was quickly translated into English and found a wide readership both in Britain and the United States. The first British edition was published by Kegan Paul in 1881. For a discussion of Morselli's influence on British thinking about suicide see Barbara T. Gates, Suicide and the Victorian Physicians," Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 16 (1980): 169-170 and Gates, Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories, 18-19.
(43.) Thomas G. Masaryk, Suicide and the Meaning of Civilization (Der Selbstmord als sociale Massenerscheinung der modernen Civilisation, 1881) translated by William B. Weist and Robert G. Batson (Chicago, 1970), 140-170; 3-4 112. Masaryk's Der Selbstmord was widely and favorably reviewed in German, English, French, and Italian learned journals. See Anthony Giddens, "Introduction," to ibid., xxii.
(44.) S.A.K. Strahan, Suicide and Insanity: A Philosophical and Sociological Study (London, 1893), 174.
(45.) Olive Anderson, "Did Suicide Increase with Industrialization in Victorian England?" Past & Present 86 (February 1980): 167.
(46.) A good example of this is found in the careful statistical studies of the English epidemiologist John Netten Radcliffe who cited studies that demonstrated that "the most probable cause of great differences observed in the annual average of the mortality from suicide in the different countries, is the greater or less degree of imperfection of their statistics. Radcliffe, nevertheless, ignored the implications of this observation when reaching his conclusions about the distribution of suicide. See John Netten Radcliffe, "The Method and Statistics of Suicide," Journal of Psychological Medicine 12 (1859): 209223, esp. 218-219.
(47.) The shared assumptions about the connections between modernity and suicide made it extremely difficult for medical and social experts to understand suicide in any way other than they did. In fact, I found only two contemporary experts who actually challenged these conclusions. The first, Jean-Baptiste Cazauvieilh, a rural asylum director, whose Du Suicide (1840) I discussed earlier, came to his conclusions because he was one of the very few who actually collected rural data. The second was the Dutch anthropologist Sebald R. Steinmetz (1894), who reviewed data from the Americas to the South Pacific. Steinmetz's specifically rejected Morselli's claims: "[T]here is a greater propensity to suicide," Steinmetz found, "among savage than civilized peoples." It is revealing, however, that Steinmetz did not question the validity of the contemporary suicide statistics, but rather the conclusions that could be drawn from them in comparison with anthropological evidence. S. [Sebald] R. [Rudolf] Steinmetz, "Suicide Among Primitive Peoples," The American Anthropologist 7 (January 1894): 53-60, esp. 59-60. Finally, Dr. E. K. Hunt (1845), whom I also discussed earlier, merely warned of the possible limitations of the data he supplied. Not until 1980 did a serious challenge to the urban/rural contrast emerge in Olive Anderson s analysis of suicide in nineteenth-century England and Wales. Anderson found that young men and women living in rural towns and villages were more likely to kill themselves than their cohorts in industrial cities. This, she argued, "casts doubt both on the traditional sociological theory that the spread of modern industrial society was accompanied by high general levels of anomie and egoism, and upon the rather newer school of sociology which associates it [suicide] with local social disorganization and ecological problems." Anderson, "Did Suicide Increase with Industrialization in Victorian England?, 149-173; esp. 165-166. Also see Anderson, Suicide in Victorian and Edwardian England, (Oxford, 1987), 54, 83-91,101-103.
(48.) Looking at the assumptions of nineteenth-century French statistical investigations of work Joan W. Scott found that "the collection of population according to households ... reveals and constructs a certain vision of social organization based on a particular idea of the family that is "naturalized" in the course of presenting data." (115) That is, the family was portrayed as "the natural environment that fostered those qualities of individual discipline and orderliness necessary for the health and prosperity of society. Scott,"A Statistical Represention of Work, La Statistique de l'industrie a a Paris," in Scott, Gender and the Politics of History, 115, 129.
(49.) For more on this see Robert Castel, The Regulation of Madness: The Origins of Incarceration in France, translated by W. D. Halls (Berkeley, 1988), 201-205.
(50.) Brierre de Boismont, Du suicide et de la folie suicide, 633.
(51.) Albert Rhodes, "Suicide," The Galaxy 21 (February 1876): 195. Rhodes, who had served in various consular posts in the Middle East and Europe beginning in the 1860s, retired to Paris n the 1870s. See Appleton's National Cyclopedia, revised edition, 5 (New York, 1898), 231.
(52.) M.G. Mulhall, "Insanity, Suicide, and Civilization," The Contemporary Review 63 (January-June 1883): 908.
(53.) Falret, De l'hypochondrie et du suicide, pp. 17-18; Adolphe Quetelet, Sur l'homme et le developpement de ses facultes, 2 vols. (Paris, 1835); Quetelet, Du systeme social et des lois qui le regissent, (Paris, 1848); A-M. Guerry, Essai sur la statistique morale de la France (Paris, 1833); Forbes Winslow, The Anatomy of Suicide, 276; Etoc-Demazy, Recherches Statistiques sur le Sucide, 212; E. K. Hunt, M. D., Statistics of Suicide in the U. S., [for 1843], American Journal of Insanity 1 (January 845). 225, 229-232; George P. Cook, Statistics of Suicide, Which Have Occurred in the State of New York from Dec. 1st 1847 to Dec. 1, 1848," American Journal of Insanity 5 (April 1849): 308-309.
(54.) Esquirol, "Du Sucide" (1821) republished in Maladies Mentales, 1:584.
(55.) Ibid., 1:584-585.
(56.) Falret, De l'hypochondrie et du suicide, 17-18.
(57.) Quoted in Louis Chevalier, Classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses a Paris pendant la premiere moitie du XIX ieme siecle (Paris, 1984), 472; English version: Labouring Classes and Dangerous Classes in Paris During the First Half of the Nineteenth Century, translated by Frank Jellinek, (London, 1973), 285.
(58.) Winslow, The Anatomy of Suicide, 276.
(59.) He continued: "There exists" among women "a fickleness of feelings which does not permit them to focus for long on the same things." On the other hand, he insisted that women had a heightened development of "sentimental affections" and were "impressionable to the highest degree, they live above all by imagination, while they often fail to act rationally." These factors, explained Brierre de Boisment, "contributed to reduce suicide among women." Brierre de Boismont, Du suicide et de la folie suicide, 63, 65-56.
(60.) Bertrand, Traite du suicide, p. 75. Almost exactly the same words could be found in the popular press: The reason for the low rate of female suicides, explained an editorial in the New York Times in 1861, was the "well known fact that women possess greater courage and patience under misfortune than men, and less readily give way to despair and the vices consequent upon it." "Suicides in New York City in 1860," New York Times, January 17, 1861: 2:1.
(61.) William Knighton, "Suicidal Mania," Littel's Living Age 148 (February 5, 1881): 376.
(62.) M. G. Mulhall, Insanity, Suicide, and Civilization, 907. That women should have been viewed as less suicidal than men is particularly puzzling given the long-held connection between suicide and insanity. For, as Elaine Showalter reminds us, the early nineteenth-century assumption of "the predominance of women among the insane" became a statistically verifiable phenomenon during the second half of the century. Indeed, "by the end of the century," writes Showalter, "women had decisively taken the lead in the career of psychiatric patient, a lead which they have retained ever since, and in ever-increasing numbers." Elaine Showalter, "Victorian Women and Insanity," in Madhouse, Mad-Doctors. and Madmen: The Social History of Psychiatry in the Victorian Era, edited by Andrew Scull (Philadelphia, 1981), 313-331; esp. 315-316. See also Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and English Culture, 1830-1980 (New York, 1985), esp. 51-73.
(63.) Morselli, Suicide, 195,197.
(64.) Strahan, Suicide and Insanity, 178. As I have demonstrated elsewhere, even within the set of rules used by statistics gatherers, both nineteenth-and twentieth-century official suicide statistics can be characterized as having under-reported the number of completed suicides by women. In fact, given the way suicide statistics have been and continue to be collected, the assertion that women complete suicide less frequently than men is questionable even under procedures, which as I will argue, ensured that women's suicidal behavior would be under-represented. See Howard I. Kushner, "Women and Suicide in Historical Perspective," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 10 (Spring 1985): 537-539 and Kushner, Self-Destruction in the Promised Land, 93-118. Although official statistics continue to report that men are three to four times more likely to commit suicide than women, as Jack Douglas demonstrated, these statistics are fatally flawed. Jack D. Douglas The Social Meanings of Suicide (Princeton, 1967), pp. 163-231; esp 215. As the British sociologist Steve Taylor has written, "Despite the general critical acclaim that [Douglas's] The Social Meanings of Suicide quite rightly received, it has had very little influence on the ways in which sociologists actually study suicide. In the first place many subsequent studies of suicide rates make no reference to Douglas and second, those who do mention him tend to side-step, rather than confront his arguments." Steve Taylor, Durkheim and the Study of Suicide (New York, 1982), 62. Unlike their Anglo-American colleagues, a number of French sociologists have directly confronted Douglas. For instance, French sociologists Baudelot and Establet concede Douglas's main point that "a difference always exists between theoretical definitions expressed by sociologists and those given in existing statistics." Although they admit that the inaccuracies of suicide statistics "prohibit making refined international comparisons and measuring the evolution of suicide over long periods," they, nevertheless, insist that these data present an accurate picture of "the variations of suicide according to sex, age, marital state, region, and, although in moderation, social category." Baudelot et Establet, Durkheim et le suicide, 50, 74-75 Philippe Besnard, examines both Douglas's critique of Durkheim and Jean Baechler' [Les Suicides (Paris, 1975)] assertions of a constant rate of suicide. Besnard rejects Baechler's assertion that suicide statistics are invalid because they ignore attempted suicides (p. 334). Besnard concludes that official statistics, if carefully used can avoid the errors that both Baechler and Douglas uncover: "il ne serait pas impossible, par une recherche appropriee, d'estimer la marge d'erreur maximale qui peut affecter les statistiques officielles du suicide. Une telle etude permettrait sans doute aussi de voir si les erreurs se repartissent de maniere aleatoire ou systematique. (339) Philippe Besnard, "Anti- ou ante-durkheimisme? Contribution au debat sur les statistiques officielles du suicide." Revue francaise de sociologie, 17, no. 2 (1976): 313-41. Reviewing the arguments of Baudelot and Establet as well as Besnard, Dominique Merllie, on the one hand, defends Durkheim against charges that he used suicide statistics as objective reflection of reality, while, on the other hand he accepts Douglas, Taylor, and Atkinson's critique of official statistics. Suicide statistics, Merllie concludes are, nevertheless, useful for social analysis "comme object et non seulement comme instrument, pour l'analyse sociologique." (p. 324) Dominique Merllie, "Le suicide et ses statistiques: Durkheim et sa posterite." Revue Philosophique de la France et l'Etranger 1086 (juillet-septembre, 1987): 303-25.
(65.) This remains the dominant view. For instance, at the 22nd Annual Meeting of the American Association for Suicidology (1989) in her keynote address entitled "Gender Socialization and Suicide," President Charlotte Sanborn tied the alleged maleness of suicide to men's socialization, which made it subsequently difficult for them to express a "softer side." If men would act like women, Sanborn suggested, their suicide rate would decline dramatically. Charlotte Sanborn, "Gender Socialization and Suicide: American Association of Suicidology Presidential Address," Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 22 (Summer 1990): 148-155. See also Patricia Harnisch, "Suicide and Gender," NewsLink (published by the American Association of Suicidology) 14, (Summer 1989): 1, 3 and Shirley Huchcroft, "What Can We Learn From Female Suicides?," ibid. 15 (Fall 1989): 12-13.
(66.) Barbara Welter, "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860, American Quarterly 18 (Summer 1966): 151-155. Gates [Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories, 125] argues, somewhat inexplicably, that "despite all evidence to the contrary, most Victorians ... wanted and expected suicide, like madness, to be a "femalemalady.'" Her sources for this conclusion are Showalter [The Female Malady] and an 1857 essay by George Henry Lewes ["Suicide in Life and Literature," Westminster Review (July, 1857): 52-78]. But, contrary to Gates's assertion, neither supports her claim. Although Showalter (see note 62) does discuss the predominance of women among mental patients she does not discuss the incidence of suicide among women. Lewes, on the other hand (p. 71), not only pointed out that women had a lower incidence of suicide than men, but also, like his contemporaries, he attached this "fact" to women's "greater timidity" and to "their greater power of passive endurance, both of bodily and mental pain."
(67.) For a discussion of suicide as a literary convention in nineteenth-century France see Lisa J. Lieberman, "Romanticism and the Culture of Suicide in Nineteenth-Century France," Comparative Studies in Society and History 33 (July, 1991): 73-85 and Lieberman, "Revising Reality: The Construction of Suicide in Nineteenth-Century France," paper presented at the 105th Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association, New York, 30 December 1990.
(68.) Esquirol, "Du Suicide," 1821 reprinted in Maladies Mentales, 1:585.
(69.) "A Southern Physician," "Suicide," The American Whig Review 6 (August 1847): 142. This essay was widely circulated and reprinted in several journals, including the Democratic Review in 1854 and Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1859. See The Democratic Review 34 (November 1854): 405-17; C. Nordhoff, "A Matter of Life And Death," Harper's New Monthly Magazine 18 (March 1859): 516-520.
(70.) Rhodes, "Suicide," 192, 194.
(71.) Morselli, Suicide, 305.
(72.) Gates, Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories, 125-150. For a very interesting discussion which contrasts male authors' representations of nineteenth-century women's suicides with females' representations "both in fact and in literature," see Margaret Higonnet, Suicide: Representations of the Feminine in the Nineteenth Century," Poetics Today 6:1-2 (1985): 103-118, esp. 113-118.
(73.) Brierre de Boismont, Du suicide et de la folie suicide, 66.
(74.) M.G. Mulhall, "Insanity, Suicide, and Civilization," 908.
(75.) Robert N. Reeves, "Suicide and the Environment, Popular Science Monthly 51 (June 1897): 189-190.
(76.) Reginald A. Skelton, "Statistics of Suicide, "The Nineteenth Century, 48 (September 1900): 471.
(77.) Nye argues that the biological and medical argumentation that are found throughout Durkheim's text should not be seen as contradictory to his sociological theory. Rather, according to Nye, Durkheim, consistent with most nineteenth-century medical and psychological thinkers, viewed many psychiatric and physiological disorders as bred by the hypercivilization of urban society in the first place. See Robert A. Nye "Heredity, Pathology and Psychoneurosis in Durkheim's Early Work," Knowledge and Society; Studies in the Sociology of Culture Past and Present 4 (1982): 103-142 esp. 130-132. Also see Howard I. Kushner, "American Psychiatry and the Cause of Suicide, 1844-1917," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 60 (Spring 1986): 36-57, esp. 57; and Self-Destruction in the Promised Land, 58-59.
(78.) Dominick LaCapra, Emile Durkheim: Sociologist and Philosopher, (Ithaca, 1972), 7.
(79.) Emile Durkheim, The Rules of the Sociological Method, (1895), 8th ed., translated by Sarah A Solovay and John H. Mueller (New York: The Free Press, 1938), 75.
(80.) Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society,  translated by W. D. Halls, with an introduction by Lewis Coser (London, 1984), 215, 191-192. This is a more up-to-date and better translation than the standard Simpson 1933 American translation. I have, however, changed the spelling to coincide with American usage. See also Emile Durkheim, De La Division du travail social, 7th edition (Paris, 1960). For more on Durkheim's connection of suicide with the "intensity" of modern urban civilization see Nye, "Heredity, Pathology, and Psychoneurosis in Durkheim's Early Work, 132-133.
(81.) Emile Durkheim, "Suicide et natalite: Etude de statistique morale, Revue philosophique de la France et de L'etranger," 26 (1888): 446-463, quote from 462.
(82.) Durkheim, "Suicide et natalite," 462. Durkheim was interested in the social effects of degeneration rather than its contribution to individual suicides. Thus, in his Suicide, Durkheim insisted that "a society does not depend for its number of suicides on having more or fewer neuropaths or alcoholics. Although the different forms of degeneration are an eminently suitable psychological field of action of the causes which may lead a man to suicide, degeneration itself is not one of these causes. Admittedly, under similar circumstances, the degenerate is more apt to commit suicide than the well man; but he does not necessarily do so because of his condition. This potentiality of his becomes effective only through the action of other factors which we must discover." Durkheim, Suicide, 81.
(83.) Durkheim, "Suicide et natalite," 663. Durkheim also believed that populations that were too dense also caused suicide. His interest was in locating what he believed to be a healthy norm in order to contrast it with the pathological (449-450). Also see Nye, Heredity, Pathology, and Psychoneurosis in Durkheim's Early Work, 114-115.
(84.) Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society (Halls translation), 192.
(85.) In a recent essay G. E. Berrios and M. Mohanna argue that Durkheim drew very selectively from the writings of nineteenth-century psychiatrists, exaggerating alienists' linking of suicide with psychopatholgy in his chapter, "Suicide et les etats psychopathiques." G. E. Berrios and M. Mohanna, "Durkheim and French Psychiatric Views on Suicide During the 19th Century: A Conceptual History," British Journal of Psychiatry 156 (1990): 1-9. Although I have no quarrel with Berrios and Mohanna, my argument rests on the congruence of Durkheim and nineteenth-century psychiatrists on the characterization of the etiology of women's suicide. Here I find no distortions.
(86.) "The two sexes," Durkheim argued, "do not share equally in social life. Man is actively involved in it, while woman does little more than look on from a distance. Consequently, man is much more highly socialized than woman." Durkheim, Suicide, 385, 166. In an exhaustive reevaluation of Durkheim's conclusions Baudelot and Establet concluded that one social fact that has not changed is that "les hommes se suicident plus souvent que les femmes, les vieux plus souvent que les jeunes." Christian Baudelot et Roger Establet, "Suicide: l'evolution seculaire d'un fait social," Economie et statistique 168 (juillet-aout 1984): 59-70. See also Baudelot et Establet, Durkheim et le suicide, 101-104.
(87.) For a discussion of this contradiction in Durkheim's Suicide see Philippe Besnard, "Durkheim et les femmes ou le suicide inacheve," Revue francaise de sociologie 14, no. 1 (1973): 27-61, esp. 29-33.
(88.) Durkheim, Suicide, 272.
(89.) Although Durkheim insisted that he was concerned with the social rather than the biological causes of suicide, he was, nevertheless, influenced by the popular, if sometimes vague, "degeneration" theory, especially its neo-Lamarckian variety. For a discussion of Durkheim's debt to the degeneration model see Nye, "Heredity, Pathology and Psychoneurosis in Durkheim's Early Work," and Nye, Crime, Madness, & Politics in Modern France, 144-154. For an analysis of the roots of generation theory in French psychiatry see Ian Dowbiggin, "Degeneration and hereditarianism in French mental science 1840-90: psychiatric theory as ideological adaption," in The Anatomy of Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry, vol. 1, edited by W. F. Bynum, Roy Porter, & Michael Shepherd (London, 1985), 188-232. For a comprehensive discussion of degeneration see Daniel Pick, Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c. 1848-c. 1918, (Cambridge, 1989), esp. 7-17.
(90.) Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society, (Halls translation), 20-21. Durkheim continued, quoting LeBon: ""Whilst the average size of the skulls of male Parisians places them among the largest known skulls, the average size of those of female Parisians places them among the very smallest skulls observed, very much below those of Chinese women and scarcely,above those of the women of New Caledonia.'" Although Durkheim drew on LeBon [L'homme et les societes, vol 2, 154] for his discussion of women's inferior brain size and thus, inferior intelligence, this was a common view in the French, Italian, British, German and American medical communities of the mid-nineteenth century. Its leading exponent was the influential and respected French neurologist, Paul Broca. For more see Stephen Jay Gould, "Measuring Heads: Paul Broca the Heyday of Craniology," in The Mismeasure of Man, (New York, 1981), 73-112; Anne Harrington, Medicine, Mind, and the Double Brain: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Thought (Princeton, 1987), 87-90.
(91.) Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society (Halls trsnslation), 329-341.
(92.) For a discussion of this see LaCapra, Emile Durkheim: Sociologist and Philosopher, 1-26.
(93.) "Suicide was of primary interest to Durkheim," LaCapra reminds us, "not as an isolated tragedy in the lives of discrete individuals, but as an index of a more widespread pathology in society as a whole." LaCapra, Emile Durkheim: Sociologist and Philosopher, 144.
(94.) Suicide, 44; (Italics in both French and English editions), See Durkheim, Le suicide. Etude de sociologie (nouvelle edition, Paris, 1986), 5.
(95.) For a discussion of the failure of official statistics to report those (particularly women) who die indirectly from their suicidal acts, see Kushner, Self-Destruction in the Promised Land, 103-104.
(96.) While statistics on attempted suicides suffer from the same limitations as all suicide statistics, Durkheim never questioned their reliability. Also see Brierre de Boismont, Du suicide et de la folie suicide, 65-66.
(97.) "An attempt is an act thus defined but falling short of actual death." Suicide, 44.
(98.) Estimates since the early nineteenth century have indicated that for every completed suicide there have been six to eight attempts. These same statistics have concluded that women attempt suicide at a rate approximately 2.3 times greater than men. Edwin S. Shneidman and Norman L. Farberow, "Statistical Comparisons Between Attempted and Committed Suicides," in The Cry for Help, ed. Farberow and Shneidman (New York, 1961), 24-37; Ronald Maris, Pathways to Suicide: A Survey of Self-Destructive Behavior (Baltimore, 1981), 243, 268; Dublin, Suicide, 3; Herbert Hendin, Suicide in America (New York, 1982), 49. Hendin sees the ratio as 10:1.
(99.) See Baudelot et Establet, Durkheim et le suicide, 66-67; Chevalier, Classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses, 470-73.
(100.) "Suicidologist" is the self-descriptive term increasingly employed by those professionals--psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, social workers, etc.--who concern themselves with suicide. It has been adopted by both the American Association of Suicidology and the International Association for Suicide Prevention.
(101.) Although suicidologists have offered various ex post facto explanations justifying the exclusion of attempted suicides from measures of suicidal behavior, none of these can be sustained on close examination. This decision has no logical basis other than one of convenience--that is, completed suicides are readily available to researchers as part of national vital statistics on death rates. But, epidemiologists have persuaded their governments to collect data on many non-lethal diseases and modern statistical methodology has made it possible to develop many measures of other forms of behavior and belief. In retrospect it seems bizarre that suicide attempts should have been excluded from all considerations of the incidence of suicide just at the moment when sophisticated statistical methodologies were developed that could have been used to include attempted suicide. That is, unless, of course, the reason for excluding attempted suicide from the equation rested ultimately upon a set of beliefs that only could conceive of suicide as a male behavior.
(102.) As the French sociologist Philippe Besnard pointed out, Durkheim was interested in female suicide only to the extent that he could use it for elaboration of his wider concerns about social pathology. In no case, Besnard finds, did Durkheim view women's suicide itself as a category for systematic analysis. "Durkheim face au suicide des femmes n'a pas qu'un interet anecdotique. Elle est peut-etre l'origine, et en tout cas au moins un symptome, d'une carence plus fondamentale dans l'elaboration de sa theorie du suicide." Besnard, "Durkheim et les femmes," 33.
(103.) Although twentieth-century psychiatrists tended to emphasize intrapsychic conflict at the expense of social causes, they nevertheless, continued to view women's suicide in the framework laid out by Durkheim. See Kushner, Self-Destruction in the Promised Land, 100-102.
(104.) Durkheim, Suicide, 241-258, esp. 246, 252, 258.
(105.) Durkheim Suicide, 276. Most subsequent studies, even those which claim to reevaluate Durkheim's Suicide, have ignored fatalistic suicide. For, instance, in their attempt "lire Le suicide, pour en extraire une methode d'analyse ajourd'hui encore applicable au suicide et a d'autres faits sociaux" Baudelot and Establet review only the "trois grands types de suicides ... le suicide egoiste ... le suicide altruiste, et le suicide anomique." In fact, their study never mentions fatalistic suicide. It is, therefore, not surprising that they have concluded that Durkheim's assertion that men were more suicidal than women has stood the test of time. Baudelot et Establet, Durkheim et le suicide, 10-11, 99-103. Also see Baudelot et Establet, "Suicide: l'evolution seculaire d'un fait social," 59-70.
(106.) Durkheim, "Suicide et natalite," 450. For an argument that women most, submerged in the family display the greatest female suicidal behavior see Kathryn K. Johnson, "Durkheim Revisited: Why Do Women Kill Themselves?" Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 11 (Summer 1981): 145.
(107.) For more on this point, see Kushner, Self-Destruction in the Promised Land, 109-111.
(108.) Steinmetz, "Suicide Among Primitive Peoples," 55-60. More recently, historian Roger Lane (1979) challenged Durkheim's logic that increased suicide rates supplied an index for social disintegration. Using the same type of data as Durkheim, Lane found that as nineteenth-century Philadelphia urbanized, its suicide rate grew proportionally greater than its homicide rate. Murderers, Lane reasoned, defy civil order, while suicides, he argued, by turning violent urges inward, internalize social regulation. Lane concluded that the increasing incidence of suicide in late nineteenth-century cities served as a barometer of social integration because suicide, unlike homicide, indicated internalization of social anger. Roger Lane, Violent Death in the City: Suicide, Accident, and Murder in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia (Cambridge, MA 1979), 33-34, 115-134. For a parallel argument connecting urbanization to social integration see James A. Henretta, "The Morphology of New England Society in the Colonial Period," in The Family in History: Interdisciplinary Essays, edited by T. K. Rabb and R. I. Rotberg, (New York, 1973), 191-210.
(109.) Durkheim, Suicide, 228. Also see Morselli, Suicide, 256-261; Skelton, "Statistics of Suicide," 4734-75.
(110.) As early as 1821 Esquirol had attributed the high incidence of military suicide to factors which seem consistent with Durkheim's fatalistic category: "L'esprit militaire, qui inspire l'indifference pour la vie, qui n'attache pas une grande importance a un bien quo'on est pret a sacrifier a l'ambition du maitre; l'esprit militaire, dis-je, doit etre favorable au suicide." Esquirol, "Du Suicide," in Maladies Mentales, 1:590.
(111.) Durkheim, Suicide, 228-239. As Besnard points out "Apres tout, le seul exemple "moderne' qui soit donne [by Durkheim] du suicide altruiste est le suicide militaire qui pourrait d'ailleurs tout aussi bien etre interprete en termes de regulation excessive (Durkheim evoque la discipline rigide, "compressive de l'individu') qu'en invoquant la trop forte integration en l'en-groupe." Besnard, "Durkheim et les femmes," 42.
(112.) Skelton, "Statistics of Suicide," 473, 475.
(113.) Masaryk's explanation for the high suicide rate in the military was especially convoluted given his algebra of the more "civilized" a society, the greater its suicide rate. "The philosophy of life, which at present is manifested by the military services," wrote Masaryk in 1881, "is wanting throughout in either true moral or religious content, and suicide therefore appears more frequently among soldiers than among civilians." Masaryk, Civilization and the Meaning of Civilization, 171. For Morselli's discussion of military suicide see Morselli, Suicide, 256-257.
(114.) If Durkheim contradicted his own logic by portraying military suicide as altruistic, he ignored entirely the fact that official statistics regularly reported extremely high rates of suicide among prisoners. "Prison life," according to Masayrk, "disposes very strongly to suicide, as the relatively high frequency of among prison inmates indicates." Given his typology, Durkheim would have had to categorize the majority of prisoner suicides as fatalistic. Masaryk, Suicide and the Meaning of Civilization, 39. Recent studies continue to report high rates of prisoner suicides: In most countries, according to Kerkhof and Bernasco, suicide "in correctional institutions is higher than in the population at large." Ad J. F. M. Kerkhof and Wim Bernasco, "Suicidal Behavior in Jails and Prisons in the Netherlands: Incidence, Characteristics, and Prevention," Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 20 (Summer 1990): 123-137. See also Jean-Claude Bernheim, Les suicides en prison, (Montreal, 1987), 315-317.
(115.) For examples of the persistence of Durkheim's conclusions about women's suicide by Anglo-American experts see Kushner, Self-Destruction in the Promised Land 100-102. An example of similar thinking in France is provided in the work of French sociologists Chenais and Vallin (1981) who attribute the increase of suicide among women in industrial countries since the Second World War to the breakdown of traditional institutions like the family. Thus, the increase of suicide among women is directly related to this increased exposure to those economic fluctuations that previously had their greatest impact on men: "L'influence de la situation economique sur le suicide depend beaucoup de la maniere dont les individus en difficulte se trouvent inseres dans la societe. L'existence et l'efficacite de reseaux de solidarite (qu'il s'agisse de la famille ou d'autres institutions) peuvent ecarter le recours a un geste de desespoir." Jean-Claude Chenais et Jacques Vallin, "Le suicide et la crise economique," Population et Societes 147 (Mai 1981): 2-3. Also see Jean-Claude Chenais, "L'evolution de la mortalite par suicide dans dryers pays industrialises," Population 28, no. 2 (Mars-Avril 1973): 420; Baudelot and Establet, "Suicide: l'evolution seculaire d'un fait social," 67.
(116.) Scott, "A Statistical Representation of Work: La statistique de l'industrie a Paris," 115.
Howard I. Kushner San Diego State University
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|Author:||Kushner, Howard I.|
|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1993|
|Next Article:||Urban and national identity: Bremen, 1860-1920.|