Hypochondria and Racial Interiority in Robert Montgomery Bird's Sheppard Lee

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Abstract

This article discusses the book "Sheppard Lee" by Robert Montgomery Bird. In the novels that have become critical touchstones for understanding cross-racial sympathy in the antebellum era are works such as Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1851) or Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick" (1851)—medical constructions of the mind and its diseases play a profoundly important but still overlooked role. Antebellum authors such as Stowe, Melville,and Poe repeatedly, and sometimes histrionically, foreground one nervous disorder in particular: hypochondria. They do so in order to imagine the stakes and consequences of imagined sympathy across racial boundaries. For although "hypochondria" survives today as a way to characterize those who believe they are ill when they are not, the antebellum disorder it named was much more expansive and suggestive than this. Physicians of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century defined hypochondria as a functional disorder of the nervous system that began with a somatic cause, dyspepsia, and had a wide range of psychological symptoms, including melancholy, ennui, imagined illness, and imagined bodily transformations.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalArizona Quarterly
Volume64
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008

Keywords

  • HYPOCHONDRIA
  • RACISM
  • SHEPPARD Lee (Book)
  • UNCLE Tom's Cabin (Book : Stowe)
  • MOBY-Dick; or, The Whale (Book)
  • BIRD, Robert Montgomery
  • STOWE, Harriet Beecher, 1811-1896
  • MELVILLE, Herman, 1819-1891
  • Bird, Robert Montgomery '(Sheppard Lee).'

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