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Embodied emotions

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Title:
Embodied emotions female hysteria in Daniel Deronda
Creator:
Fostvedt, Anakija Mia
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Language:
English
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viii, 78 leaves : ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Daniel Deronda (Eliot, George) ( fast )
Hysteria in literature ( lcsh )
Women in literature ( lcsh )
Hysteria in literature ( fast )
Women in literature ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 76-78).
General Note:
Department of English
Statement of Responsibility:
by Anakija Mia Fostvedt.

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University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
781639035 ( OCLC )
ocn781639035
Classification:
LD1193.L54 2011M F67 ( lcc )

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£
EMBODIED EMOTIONS:
FEMALE HYSTERIA IN DANIEL DERONDA
by
Anakija Mia Fostvedt
B.A., University of Colorado Boulder, 2006
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment for the requirements for the degree of
Master of English in Literature
2011


This thesis for the Master of English
degree by
Anakija Mia Fostvedt
has been approved
by
J. Jeffrey Franklin
Gillian Silverman
Nancy Ciccone
l'l l Tl\
Date


Fostvedt, Anakija Mia (M.A., English Literature)
Embodied Emotions: Female Hysteria in Daniel Deronda
Thesis directed by Professor J. Jeffrey Franklin and Professor Gillian Silverman
ABSTRACT
This project examines the fluid and peculiar nature of female hysteria and its relationship
to the body in nineteenth-century England as illustrated in George Eliots last novel,
Daniel Deronda. By understanding female hysteria as an eruption of emotional excess
and psychological despair that manifest through the body, suffocation, concealment, and
passionate outbursts may no longer be dismissed or disparaged, but understood with
greater compassion. This work seeks to understand and identify with the hysterical
aspects of the novel through four of its female characters: Gwendolen Harleth, Mirah
Lapidoth, Lydia Glasher, and the Alcharisi. These central female characters exhibit how
hysteria functions and affects womens lives in diverse ways, which are particular to their
positions under patriarchal regulation and dominance. Hysteria lacks, or rather, resists
clear explanation, but, by reading Daniel Deronda through hysteria, a deeper
understanding of the repressed woman who reverts to hysteria and the empowered
woman who subverts through hysteria may be gained. More importantly, writing as a
form of hysterical expression, fraught with anxiety and nervous dread, may also be an
agent for recovery. By viewing the act of writing as a fit of hysteria, in which the
emotional excesses and unused mental energies become embodied as text, a vocabulary


for feminist protest of discomfort is created. This embodiment of emotional upheaval into
words exorcizes the pent up surplus of feeling and is therefore a cathartic process.
Specifically hysterical writing releases women from male-centered modes of discourse by
providing a highly emotional, symbolic, thus seemingly irrational, yet fluid, and
inherently female style of self-expression.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. We recommend
its publication.
J. Jeffrey Franklin
Signed
Gillian Silverman


DEDICATION
I dedicate this thesis to my mother, who gave me an appreciation of reading and learning and
taught me the value of perseverance and resolve. I also dedicate this to my partner, Jeremy, and
my belle-mere, for their unfaltering support and understanding while I was completing this
thesis.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
My thanks to my advisors, Jeffrey Franklin and Gillian Silverman, for their contribution and
support of my research. I also wish to thank Nancy Ciccone and Amy Vidali for their valuable
participation and insights.


CONTENTS
Figures............................................................viii
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION................................................1
Purpose of the Study......................................1
2. NINETEENTH-CENTURY INTERPRETATIONS OF HYSTERIA..............6
The Nervous Female Body...................................6
3. GWENDOLEN HARLETH..........................................18
The Sylph................................................18
Paroxysms of Despair.....................................20
Paroxysms of Fear........................................24
Making a Hysterical Scene................................29
4. MIRAH LAPIDOTH.............................................40
The Waif.................................................40
5. LYDIA GLASHER..............................................50
The Widow................................................50
6. THE ALCHARISI..............................................61
The Artist...............................................61
7. CONCLUSION.................................................70
BIBLIOGRAPHY.......................................................76
vii


LIST OF FIGURES
Figure
2.1 The deformed female body........................................................7
2.2 Hysterogenic zones...............................................................12
3.1 The problematic sylph..........................................................18
4.1 The moment-hand of her own death...............................................40
5.1 The lost vessel................................................................50
6.1 The fatally ill artist.........................................................61
viii


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Purpose of the Study
Let thy chief terror be of thine own soul:
There, mid the throng of hurrying desires
That trample oer the dead to seize their spoil,
Lurks vengeance, footless, irresistible
As exhalations laden with slow death,
And oer the fairest troop of captured joys
Breathes pallid pestilence.
(Epigraph to Vol. I-IV of Daniel Deronda)
In her last novel, Daniel Deronda, published in 1876, George Eliot illustrates the
fluid and peculiar nature of female hysteria in her contemporary setting of Victorian
England. The central female characters in the novel exhibit how hysteria functions and
affects womens lives in diverse ways, which are particular to their positions under the
patriarchal regulation that attempts to undermine their ambition, trivialize their
experience, and control their destiny. These four central female characters to the novel
Gwendolen Harleth, Mirah Lapidoth, Lydia Glasher, and the Alcharisiembody their
emotional states in various ways and experience hysteria as a result of attempting to
conceal their conflicting impulses and desires. The four types of hysteria in the novel are
the petrified hysterical state as seen through Gwendolens character, the melancholic
hysteric as depicted through Mirah, performative hysteria as embodied in Lydia, and the
1


spiritually haunted hysteric as seen through the Alcharisi. Each of these forms of hysteria,
however, represents feminist protest as a response to an overbearing father figure.
In working through the medical interpretations of and cultural responses to
hysteria and its relationship to the female body, I will explore the on-going sense of
captivity, and the ambivalence inherent in the female experience, in relation to her body,
her consciousness, and her emotions. Daniel Deronda conveys encounters with female
hysteria insomuch that these characters embody emotional paroxysms caused by anguish,
fear, and disappointment regarding their position under patriarchal regulation. In a certain
sense, then, the enactment of hysteria can be embraced as a means for these women to
speak their inexpressible and suffocating emotional state in a language uniquely theirs.
In the leading role, Eliot constructs Gwendolen Harleth, a young woman who
desires to be in control and independent above all. Gwendolen has ambitions that conflict
with her biology as a woman and she feels trapped and stifled in her gendered role in the
world of nineteenth-century England. Her thwarted ambition, which the novel
characterizes as masculine in the context of nineteenth-century Victorian gender
distinctions, causes Gwendolen to react hysterically to her powerlessness regarding her
fixed position as a Victorian woman. Gwendolens reaction to her sense of thwarted
ambition renders her emotional experience physically painful, as she grows more
conscious of her domestic and bodily confinement. Gwendolens consequent hysterical
outbursts illustrate a physical manifestation of her psychological and emotional suffering
when she becomes aware of her inability to enact the power she craves and expected to
attain. Moreover, the self-possession Gwendolen was determined to uphold breaks down
once she marries Grandcourt because her body is especially threatened upon marriage.
2


Hysteria, in Gwendolens case, represents the damaging effects of severe emotional
distress caused by guilt, shame, and a sense of fear that overwhelm her psyche and erupt
through hysterical displays of posturing, screaming, and sobbing.
Mirah Lapidoth, who is on the brink of suicide when she enters the novel, exhibits
the way hysteria can also be deeply internalized as melancholia due to a fear of exposing
her peculiar emotional state. Hysteria, in Mirahs plot, functions in a subtler manner than
in Gwendolens. Mirah eventually escapes her father, but her hushed resistance and flight
is not realized without constant anxiety and guilt that he would come back to claim her,
which he tries to, suggesting that the patriarchy holds tight reins upon womens
experiences. Her guilt after escaping her father also exhibits the intense ambivalence that
overwhelms her when she finally frees herself from him. Hysteria, in Mirahs case, is
internalized, insomuch as her mind is in a vulnerable condition of melancholy and
despondency. Insomnia, shame, and fear dominate Mirahs experience, and hysterical
symptoms manifest through severe depression and hopelessness, rather than screaming,
sobbing, and gesturing, a contradiction of Gwendolens symptoms, which exhibits the
inconsistent nature of the hysterical condition.
Conversely, Lydia Glasher outwardly subverts the patriarchal structures that bind
her through performing hysteria. Lydias ability to voluntarily enact hysteria and threaten
Grandcourts authority over her allows her to assert her desire, even if she slides
dangerously close to an actual loss of self-possession in the process. Lydia aims to claim
Grandcourts estates in order to legitimize her eldest son in response to the inescapable
reality of caring for these unclaimed, therefore, fatherless children, and being hopelessly
doomed to endless isolated widowhood and social banishment. For Lydia, hysteria is a
3


means to assert herself in front of Grandcourt, who is her former lover and the father of
her children. Lydias repression of her emotional state is so controlled that she is able to
manage her hysteria and use it to her advantage. The empowerment that Lydia achieves
through hysteria, however, is limited and functions only in the domestic realm. In fact,
Lydias main purpose is to ensure a place for herself and her eldest son within this
sphere, thus she simultaneously reinforces as she subverts patriarchal authority over her
experience.
The Alcharisi, on the other hand, pacifies her fathers wishes that she marry a
Jewish man, only inwardly rebelling until both her father and her husband pass away and
she can fulfill her ambition. The Alcharisis body also determines her experience in that
her fathers wishes haunt her through her abandoned son, Daniel. Although she freed
herself from the constraining life of motherhood by giving Daniel to the trustworthy Sir
Hugo, she cannot escape her fathers claim on her body as the vessel for his spiritual heir.
Additionally, hysteria functions rather mysteriously in the Alcharisis case. She admits
that she is suffering, but that Daniel cannot help her, which implies her condition is an
inexpressible and chronic illness that might never be explained or treated. At first she
hesitates to speak to her son, and through facial expressions she renders Daniel helpless
and confused in her presence. The conflicted emotions that inundate the Alcharisis
experience come from her sense of duty to her father and a fear of disobeying him, versus
her ardent desire to become a professional artist.
Each of these primary female characters in the novel expresses their sense of
stifling constraint under their patriarchal keepers in overlapping and various ways, which
exhibits the fluid nature of female hysteria as a condition that manifests in ways
4


particular to the individual sufferer, yet that forms a collectively female experience at the
same time. The ambivalent depiction of hysteria in the novel, and its relationship to the
female body, perhaps reflects George Eliots own ambivalence regarding the afflictions
prevalence in the female population, medical interpretations of male doctors, and artistic
representations in nineteenth-century Europe. Hysteria, in fact, embodies an ambivalent
condition in that the primary afflictions associated with it are feeling suffocated,
confusing reality with the imagination, and having a sense of overwhelming confliction
between duty and desire.
The emotionally induced, often environmentally exacerbated, expressions of
female consciousness are impossible to categorize and fully evaluate. Yet in exploring
the ways hysteria functions in different womens lives, perhaps a vocabulary for
discomfort and feminist protest can be created. Hysteria resists clear definition, but, by
reading Daniel Deronda through the lens of hysteria, a deeper understanding of the
repressed woman who reverts to hysteriaembodied in Gwendolen and Mirahand the
semi-empowered woman who partially subverts the patriarchy through hysteriaas
depicted through Lydia and the Alcharisimay be gained. Reading these female
characters in terms of hysteria is meaningful to understanding the novel because each
woman experiences her emotional upheaval and physicality in ways that exhibit how
women occupy their bodies and emotions, and react to patriarchal dominance in a manner
unique to their experience and the collective experience of woman more generally.
5


CHAPTER 2
NINETEENTH-CENTURY INTERPRETATIONS OF HYSTERIA
The Nervous Female Body
Since antiquity, hysteria has been categorized as an affliction particular to women
based on female reproductive biology. Certainly women do not exclusively experience
hysteria, but many of the explanations for this disorder have been attributed to affects of
the supposed inconsistent position, and displacement, of the womb.1 The Victorians drew
their assumptions on female hysteria from modified ancient definitions of the disorder.
Andrew Mangham points out: mid-Victorian medical writers believed that the course of
hysteria was biologically determined by uterine processes. The difference lay in the
theory of a psychosomatic connection between the obstructed menstrual flow and a
pressurized volcanic hysterical energy (Mangham 1). There is a discomfort with which
women occupy their bodies implied by this anatomical explanation for hysteria. In the
nineteenth-century, certain hypotheses for the cause of hysteria remained in the realm of
the female reproductive system. In 1871, Dr. Edward John Tilt remarked, some young
women remain healthy until first menstruation; and that although this function be well
performed, it brings on an attack of hysteria, because the nervous system is so badly 1
1 The word hysteria is derived from the Greek word hystera, womb. Greco-Roman
medical writers believed, as did the Egyptians before them, that hysteria was an illness
caused by violent movements of the womb and that it was therefore peculiar to women.
The illness had a clearly recognizable pattern of symptoms: suffocation, inability to
speak, and sometimes convulsions (Shelton 302).
6


tempered that it is, as it were, poisoned by the healthy stimulus of ovarian influence (Tilt
690). The figure below illustrates the interior of the female body as deformed by corsets,
which likely had an unhealthy influence on the ovaries:
Although female reproductive biology may not be the sole cause for hysteria,
environmental pressures and containment of the female body, symbolized by the corset,
had detrimental effects on womens experiences. Deanna Dahlsad remarks, corsets have
been blamed for breathing problems, broken ribs, curvature of the spine, hunchbacks,
prolapsed uterus, miscarriages, hysteria and other mental illness, fainting spells, epilepsy,
and even fatalities (Dahlsad 1). The social forms of the Victorian era that kept womens
bodies tightly confined likely resulted in bodily malfunction, emotional discomfort, and
eventual feminist protest. 2
2 Source for image: http://www.kitsch-slapped.eom/2009/l 1/what-if-everything-you-
knew-about-the-corset-was-wrong/
figure 2.12
7


The invisible connection between mental and emotional instability and the
discomfort of the body is certainly the hysterical condition, which late-Victorian
physicians began to recognize. Dr. Julius Althaus, a prominent Victorian physician,
determined that hysteria manifests in the form of convulsive attacks, fainting fits, pain,
cough, difficulty of deglutition,3 vomiting, borborygmi,4 asthma, hiccough, palpitations
of the heart, tenesmus5 of the bladder, general and partial loss of power, catalepsy,6 coma,
delirium, etc. (Althaus 245). In fact, hysterical symptoms include a vast array of nervous
afflictions and complaints, which rendered the condition quite mysterious; even Dr.
Althaus admits, As regards the symptoms we find that their multitude and apparent
incongruity have perplexed and bewildered these observers (Althaus 245), of whom he
cites Riviere, Hoffmann, and others.
For this study, the various explanations for female hysteria are understood in the
realm of certain afflictions caused by deeply internalized emotional or neurological
disturbances that are then externalized through the body. Although a post-Victorian
insight, Dr. Ernst Kretschmer divides the origins of hysteria into two main sources: (a)
the instinct of self-preservationin the form of fear and anxiety in relation to dangerous
situationsand (b) from all the emotions and conflicts associated with the sexual life
[...] especially in women (Kretschmer 574). Lastly, the occurrence of hysteria with
insomnia (Shrandy 545), as noted in 1881, reveals the significant connection between
3 Physiol. The action of swallowing (Oxford English Dictionary).
4 A rumbling or gurgling noise made by the movement of fluid and gas in the intestines
(Merriam- Webster).
5 Pathol. A continual inclination to void the contents of the bowels or bladder,
accompanied by straining, with little or no discharge (OED).
6 Med. A disease characterized by a seizure or trance, lasting for hours or days, with
suspension of sensation and consciousness {OED).
8


hysteria and sleeplessness perhaps caused by chronic nightmares. Because of the
multiplicity of its symptoms and contradictory expressions, hysteria, and its relationship
to the female body, will be unpacked as a disturbance of the otherwise unbothered
emotional and mental state that manifests physically, but that can also be internalized as a
way to conceal these overwhelming feelings of torment and misery particular to the
female experience.
In the second half of the nineteenth-century, it seems hysteria was reaching
epidemic proportions, especially among middle- and upper-class women. The
proliferation of hysteria in Victorian medical records and literary contexts exhibits the
concerns of a culture inundated by rapid industrial growth and attempts to control
womens bodies as a means to regain patriarchal stability in a period fraught with
religious, political, and social transformations. Logan Peter Melville explains that
nervous disorders such as hysteria became the leading category of illness, accounting for
two-thirds of all disease, and the new middle-class nervous body was viewed with
considerable alarm (Melville 1). Attempts to contain these supposedly deviant female
bodies took place in the form of scientific investigation. However, Elaine Showalter
points out, despite their awareness of poverty, dependency, and illness as factors, the
prevailing view among Victorian psychiatrists was that the statistics proved what they
had suspected all along: that women were more vulnerable to insanity than men because
the instability of their reproductive systems interfered with their sexual, emotional, and
rational control (Showalter 55). Even with rapidly progressing medical and scientific
knowledge during the Victorian era, female anatomy and mental weakness were still the
9


determining factors for explaining hysteria and thus legitimizing her contained,
trivialized, and domesticated state.
As a malady thought to be particular to highly sensitive and leisured women,
hysteria became a medium through which refinement of class and idle feminine behavior
could function. The fashionability of hysteria and its cognates, as Andrew Scull points
out, can easily be traced in the persistent references to nervous complaints in
contemporary novels, drama, and poetry (Scull 50). Alexander Popes The Rape of the
Lock, published in 1717, is a classic example of a literary depiction of womens
nervousness, vapours, and fragility, according to Scull.7 Regarding the frequency of
hysterical complaints among women, Scull notes, that Here, indeed, was an
extraordinarily attractive patient population, blessed with excessively refined sensibilities
and exquisitely civilized temperaments (Scull 42). The truly sophisticated and leisured
woman, it seems, suffered from hysterical symptoms, which highlights an idealization of
hyper-femininity and sensibility among middle- and upper-class Victorians. Furthermore,
the British physician, Dr. Tilt, remarked, although a disease of every climate and social
7 from Part IV, The Rape of the Lock: An Anti Heroi-Comical Poem, Alexander Pope
http://poetry.eserver.org/rape-of-the-lock.html:
There Affectation with a sickly Mien
Shows in her Cheek the Roses of Eighteen,
Practis'd to Lisp, and hang the Head aside,
Faints into Airs, and languishes with Pride;
On the rich Quilt sinks with becoming Woe,
Wrapt in a Gown, for Sickness, and for Show (Pope 4.32-40).
A constant Vapour o'er the Palace flies;
Strange Phantoms rising as the Mists arise;
Dreadful, as Hermit's Dreams in haunted Shades,
Or bright as Visions of expiring Maids (Pope 4.41-4).
10


condition, hysteria is most frequent in women of the upper-classes of the civilised races,
in whom emotionalism is intensified, at the expense of reason and self-control, by
injudicious training in childhood, and the subsequent pampering that ill fits them for the
trials of life (Tilt 691). From such a statement, it would appear as though spoiled
daughters, wives, and mothers are the exclusive yet bothersome sufferers of nervous
disorders and various forms of the hysterical condition.
Nineteenth-century descriptions of hysteria and its associations with this hyper-
feminine, leisured body, exhibit the Victorian eras obsession with imperial dominance,
separate spheres, and a strict adherence to socially constructed gender roles. Mangham
notes, As a part-ideological construct, hysteria cannot be considered as separate from the
economic and political ambitions of the age, or from the division of labor and the
doctrine of separate spheres that those ambitions underwrote (Mangham 3). Thus, the
marginalization and domestication of women rendered many of them confined, perhaps
erased, which understandably culminated in hysterical eruption.
Unfortunately, hysteria, as a disorder particular to women, exploded during the
second half of the nineteenth-century and rendered many female bodies the focal point
for penetrating this mysterious disease.8 With no apparent organic source, male doctors
observed and studied movements, fluctuations, and functions of the female patients
bodies as a way to solve this incomprehensible and rampant problem of a seeming
display of foolishness and uncontrollability. Asti Hustvedt explains, The female body,
8 Rachel P. Maines describes the use of certain technological advances in medicine used
to treat hysteria; she notes, When the vibrator emerged as an electromechanical medical
instrument at the end of the nineteenth century, it evolved from previous massage
technologies in response to demand from physicians for more rapid and efficient physical
therapies, particularly for hysteria (Maines 1).
11


that dark continent of the nineteenth century, was presented to doctors as uncharted
territory in need of scientific exploration (Hustvedt 51). The female hysterics body,
then, seen as a dark continent, became another territory to infiltrate and civilize.
Hustvedt continues, Charcot confronted the chaos of the hysterical female body and
created a new topography, one that included a map of hysterogenic zones, mechanical
buttons of sorts. These zones were located on the trunk of the body and privileged the
ovaries and, to a lesser degree, the breasts (Hustvedt 51-2).
The female hysterics anatomy was literally mapped out and divided into zones as a way
to contain and study her otherwise incomprehensible complaints. Hysteria, however, still
eluded such attempts to treat, understand, and categorize womens bodies and
experiences. After Charcots death in 1893, his colleagues and students abandoned ship
and the search for the brain lesion that would explain these physical manifestations of
mental and emotional outpourings was never discovered.
One of Charcots students, Sigmund Freud, and his colleague, Joseph Breuer,
approached hysteria through an alternative route, that is, through memory and sexual 9
9 The Hysterogenic Zones
Source: http://tid.tumblr.com/post/101054302/hysterogenic-zones
12


repression. Their solution to hysteria was the talking cure10 rather than hypnosis and
literal bodily probation. Repression of past trauma and sexual desire became explanations
for womens hysterical symptoms, but still ignored many womens actual nervous
susceptibilities due to an internalization of patriarchal domination. In relation to Freuds
prominent role in interpreting and treating hysteria, Showalter states, It was in dealing
with hysterical women, after all, that Freud first developed his theories of the sexual
origin of neurosis (Showalter 18). Hysteria, for Freud, was a mode of prodding and
studying the female experience in relation to her sexuality, which determined her still,
under the male analysts gaze, and submissive to patriarchal authority. In his case study
of Dora, Freud remarks,
If it is true that the causes of hysterical disorders are to be found in the
intimacies of the patients psycho-sexual life, and that hysterical
symptoms are the expression of their most secret and repressed wishes,
then the complete exposition of a case of hysteria is bound to involve the
revelation of those intimacies and the betrayal of those secrets.
(Freud 2)
Here, betraying herself, exposing her secrets, becomes the vehicle through which the
hysterical patient can find relief. However, the female hysterics release from her
tormenting condition is likely made more problematic under the scrutinizing, analytic
gaze of patriarchal rationality and authority.
10 Breuer explains that when Anna O. was in an increasingly moody, contrary and
disagreeable temper, it was difficult, even in her hypnosis, to get her to talk things
through, a procedure for which she had found two names in English, the apt and serious
talking cure and the humorous chimney-sweeping (Freud 34). So Fraulein Anna
coined the term herself.
13


Likely, not all hysterical and emotional crises are due to psycho-sexual
repression and disappointment, but may very well be induced by the confining and
repressing roles that are determined by the realities of simply being a girl. Hysteria as a
medium used to contest the strict and confining social roles of women may be
empowering, but this interpretation alone might ignore the reality of the powerless
position many women find themselves occupying. The recurrent reading of hysteria,
which determines the female hysteric as a powerless victim of an overbearing patriarchal
society that controls and represses her experience, is defeating, but necessary to address
in order to relieve woman from her subordinate and suffocating state of being. By
attributing the causes of female hysteria to sexual repression alone, as Showalter
suggests, the problematic social issues of the time can be ignored, and thus retained. She
remarks, It was much simpler to blame sexual frustration, to continue to see hysterical
women as lovelorn Ophelias, than to investigate womens intellectual frustration, lack of
mobility, or needs for autonomy and control (Showalter 132). Hysteria, then, may have
been an inevitable protest against firmly fixed gender roles and separate spheres that
render womens lives entirely dependent and utterly dull.
Although many of the nineteenth-century interpretations of hysteria published in
the British Medical Journal are misogynistic, Dr. Seth B. Watson explains, In some
cases, hysteria appears to be the accumulation of unexhausted energies, of whatever kind;
as if this spiritual or nervous accumulation became too great for its corporeal dwelling
(Watson 905). Perhaps both an increase in spiritual inclination or doubt may result in
an overload of nervous dread, which may culminate in a hysterical condition.
Furthermore, the notion that woman should remain idle, based on her supposed inferior
14


intellectual capacity, is exposed and invalidated through Dr. Watsons explanation for
this possible cause for female hysteria.
The repressed, marginalized, and dismissed woman, who cannot bear her stifled
existence and remain on the periphery of society, might be able to react against her
powerlessness through hysteria. However, Showalter recognizes that female emotional
uprisings and protests in the form of hysteria come dangerously close to romanticizing
and endorsing madness as a desirable form of rebellion rather than seeing it as the
desperate communication of the powerless (Showalter 5). Hence, the powerless woman,
with no other recourse to express her intolerable situation, releases hysterical sobs,
fragmented speech, gestures, and other seemingly bizarre behaviors, which
uncontrollably emit from the depths of her despair in response to her position under
patriarchal rule. Hysterical protestations against repressed ambition, desire, and an
overall sense of discomfort may indeed be attributed to the cold, firm grip of patriarchal
science, religion, and law that attempts to contain and control women.
Conversely, reading hysteria as a contra performance through which women are
able to recover the female body through creating a feminine language that subverts the
rationality of the patriarchy, exhibits an empowering challenge to a polluted system of
values. Although it seems to be a biological reality that the female reproductive system
renders her a vessel for procreation, or, deeply disappointed if she cannot be, this destiny
should not encumber and ruin her experience. Showalter connects this essentially female
dilemma to interpretations of hysteria; she notes, while doctors blamed menstrual
problems or sexual abnormality, women writers suggested that it was the lack of
meaningful work, hope, or companionship that led to depression or breakdown
15


(Showalter 61). Womens roles as defined by patriarchal traditions, may be the sole cause
for the condition, not her fluctuating and supposedly malfunctioning body, that is, her
reproductive system and potent sexuality. In fact, the seemingly excessive fluidity of the
female body poses a destabilizing threat to a patriarchal way of life. In attempting to
contain women and cure hysteria, male-centered discourse relies on female biology to
keep women, their bodies, and their emotions domesticated. Janet Beizer explains that
the focus on the vagaries of womans mind and the travels of her uterus serves to occult
political issues related to the fear that woman will not stay in her place within the home,
the family, the society, and the threat that, moving outside these traditional structures, she
will dislocate ostensibly fixed social boundaries and values (Beizer 48). Hysteria, as a
performance to hyperbolize and simultaneously undermine the patriarchal notion that
womens bodies and minds are in disarray, allows women to claim agency through
embodying and acting out their entirely valid emotions rather than remaining passive,
powerless, and passionless.
In viewing hysteria as a powerful feminist response to the often-confining female
experience, the hysteric holds the potential to protest her role and undermine patriarchal
manipulation. French feminist theory, as Showalter points out, contends that madness
has been the historical label applied to female protest and revolution and hysterics,
especially Freuds Dora, became champions of a defiant womanhood, whose
opposition, expressed in physical symptoms and coded speech, subverted the linear logic
of male science (Showalter 5). Speaking with a more feminine language, then,
hysterics have the ability to overcome patriarchal dominance and the hysterical body
becomes the body politic through which, as Showalter posits, it is possible to see
16


hysteria within the specific historical framework of the nineteenth-century as an
unconscious form of feminist protest (Showalter 5). Hence, hysteria is an act of
feminist protest that can either function as a conscious attempt to subvert the patriarchy
or an unconscious attempt to revolt against it.
The body, as the locus through which hysteria becomes manifest, represents a
place of excess, where tears, screams and seething discontent are released in response to
severely restricted social roles. The hysterical, excessive female body refuses patriarchal
authority and claims a feminine language outside of privileged and male-centered
discourse. Mangham remarks that even clinical attempts to describe hysteria reveal a
metonymic connection between its symptomology and the hysterical mind itself; both are
distinguished as fragmentary, manifold in variety, and changeable (Mangham 2). Hence,
the female hysterics use of language appears to have had a revolutionary effect on
medical discourses of the nineteenth-century. Asti Hustvedt notices, When writing about
the female condition [...] The cold, analytical style of medical discourse is abandoned in
favor of a flowery, metaphorical language (Hustvedt 102). The male-centered medical
discourse, it seems, tends to mimic the highly suggestive, provocative, and symbolic
language of the female hysteric.11 In fact, female hysteria may be a cathartic expression
and opportunity for woman to make an enlivening move into an embodiment of her
emotions and intellectual desires. The therapeutic benefits of hysteria can possibly be
gained once the irrepressible emotional and psychological state is purged. The catharsis,
however, may only affect the hysterical character and the hysterical writer. 11
11 Helene Cixous writes of woman writing: For once she blazes her trail in the symbolic,
she cannot fail to make of it the chaosmos of the personalin her pronouns, her nouns,
and her clique of referents (Cixous 888).
17


CHAPTER 3
GWENDOLEN HARLETH
The Sylph
figure 3.11
Through Gwendolen Harleth, whom George Eliots narrator characterizes as the
problematic sylph1 2 {DD 5) and Spoiled Child (DD Bk. 1), an exploration into the
novel through the lens of female hysteria may reveal the disturbing psychological, even
hysterical aspects of her character. By focusing on the emotional elements of
1 Source: .
2 Sylph. One of a race of beings or spirits supposed to inhabit the air (orig. in the system
of Paracelsus). 1812, H. Davy, Elements Chem. Philos. The Rosicrucian philosophy, in
which gnomes, sylphs, salamanders, and nymphs were the spiritual agents, supposed [to
be] capable of being governed or enslaved by man (OED, emphasis added).
18


Gwendolenher disappointment, nervousness, and terrorEliots narrative constructs
an avenue for an emotional and psychological examination of the female experience.
Throughout the novel, Gwendolen exerts much energy in trying to conceal her inner
turmoil, which is brought on by deep disappointment; this repression of her will, and the
frustration of her determined ambition, arguably sets Gwendolen up as a hysterical figure.
As the novel opens, she is characterized as deeply ambitious, but beginning to sense her
social constraints. Hence, Gwendolens hysteria exposes the harsh effects of the strict and
stifling gender roles that women in nineteenth-century England were expected to uphold
and could not help but protest.
Gwendolens thwarted masculine ambition points to a possible cause for her
hysteria. In the opening scene of the novel, at the gaming-table, Gwendolen had visions
of being followed by a cortege who would worship her as a goddess of luck and watch
her play as a directing augury. But, more tellingly, the narrator posits on her behalf,
Such things had been known of male gamblers; why should not a woman have a like
supremacy (DD 6)7 In imaging herself as a goddess, worshipped and attended by a
throng of loyal attendants, Gwendolen risks entering the world of masculine ambition,
misplaced as a female with the male gamblers, but the narrator questions the validity of
Gwendolen being held back on the basis of gender. Unfortunately, in adhering to rigid
gender roles, as the narrator remarks, Here is a restraint which nature and society have
provided on the pursuit of striking adventure; so that a soul burning with a sense of what
the universe is not, and ready to take all existence as fuel, is nevertheless held captive by
the ordinary wirework of social forms and does nothing particular (DD 43). In
Gwendolens case, feeling captive, insignificant, and restrained based on the pervasive,
19


seemingly inescapable, wirework of social forms that keep women subservient to the
men in their lives, causes her to react hysterically to her gendered position that is based
on biology not her ambition or desire.
Paroxysms of Despair
I dont know. We women cant go in search of adventuresto find out the
North-West Passage or the source of the Nile, or to hunt tigers in the East. We
must stay where we grow, or where the gardeners like to transplant us. We are
brought up like the flowers, to look as pretty as we can, and be dull without
complaining. That is my notion about the plants: they are often bored, and that is
the reason why some of them have got poisonous. What do you think?
Gwendolen had run on rather nervously, lightly whipping the rhododendron brush
in front of her.
(DD 113)
Gwendolen desires to lead, to manage, and be independent, as a man in the Victorian era
might; but for a woman, such aspirations are typically thwarted. She ends up married,
relegated to the domestic realm, and therefore repressed, bored, disappointed, and
perhaps even poisoned. Gwendolen admits that she is bored to death (DD 9) and
desires a more exciting life. She tells her friend, Madame von Langen, If I am to leave
off play I must break my arm or my collar-bone. I must make something happen; unless
you will go into Switzerland and take me up the Matterhorn (DD 9). She desires a life of
risk-taking adventure, but instead is forced to submit to the Victorian expectations of
polite society. Gwendolen speaks restlessly from the beginning of the novel, which
demonstrates the unease with which she plays the role of a sound-minded and
emotionally stable debutante who accepts her place in English society. Carole Stone
remarks that the social milieu in which women are expected to be compliant makes her
behaviour as a strong-willed woman seem deviant (Stone 60). Holding in her
protestations rather than being outwardly defiant of her gendered role overwhelmingly
20


fills her with severe discontentment. In fact, this repression of her personal suffering
converts into a nervous shock (DD 303) when she finds no outlet for her supposed
deviance.
The plant imagery associated with Gwendolen throughout the novel highlights her
sense of meaninglessness, dullness, and fixedness in her gendered role. For instance,
Eliots narrator observes how Gwendolen looked lovely and vigorous as a tall, newly-
opened lily the next morning (DD 122). Later, after meeting Lydia and feeling betrayed
by Grandcourts affections, Gwendolen passionately says to her mother, Everything has
gone against me. People come near me only to blight me (DD 198). Gwendolen senses
she is becoming a damaged and diseased plant, which she dreads and which also invokes
the double meaning of a Spoiled Child. In fact, Stone connects the flower imagery to
Joseph Breuers notions on the hysterical woman:
Eliots imagery of flowers is reminiscent of Breuers remarks on hysterics:
The overflowing productivity of their minds has led one of my friends to
assert that hysterics are the flower of mankind, as sterile, no doubt, but as
beautiful as double flowers (SE 2:240). And this is where Eliot leaves her
character, Gwendolen: a decorative plant, reduced to domesticity.
(Stone 65)
As Stone highlights, by positing hysterics are the flower of mankind, Breuer evokes the
sterility of the female condition in the sense that they lack productive outlets for the
overflowing productivity of their minds as well as the double-consciousness, or
ambivalence, inherent in the hysteric and feminine disposition. Gwendolens ambition
21


lies outside the domestic realm, but in identifying her with flowers and plants, Eliot
reveals the difficulty Victorian women had in stepping out of that box.
Gwendolen wants to lead an independent life and/or control her husband; this
ambition sets her up as a self-reliant character who is also ambivalent regarding her
personal responsibility in fulfilling such a desire. The narrator reveals her imagined state
of pre-eminence: Gwendolen wished to mount the chariot and drive the plunging horses
herself, with a spouse by her side who would fold his arms and give her his countenance
without looking ridiculous (DD 115). She envisions herself holding the reins, imposing
his allowances, and demanding he not embarrass her. Unfortunately, when Grandcourt
still determines to marry Gwendolen despite her familys financial collapse, a new
perception permeates her consciousness: Gwendolen felt herself stricken [...] it was as if
she had consented to mount a chariot where another held the reins {DD 276-7). But
Gwendolens empire was threatened before Grandcourt comes back to insist upon
marrying her, as seen through her hysterical reaction to being poor and socially
downgraded to a governess.
Her familys new economic, therefore social, position and the possibility of
becoming utterly dependent irks and disappoints her so deeply that she bitterly opts for a
state of invalidism, quite befitting to the hysterical figure. The narrator describes her: In
spite of her healthy frame, her irreconcilable repugnance affected her even physically:
she felt a sort of numbness and could set about nothing; the least urgency, even that she
should take her meals, was an irritation to her {DD 232). Her behavior is reminiscent of
Alexander Popes description of the embodiment of female vapours: She sighs for ever
on her pensive Bed, / Pain at her side, and Megrim at her Head (Pope 4.24-5). More
22


alarming than a chosen state of invalidism, however, is the resultant depression and
refusal to eat;3 she is described as having a world-nausea upon her, and [she] saw no
reason all through her life why she should wish to live (DD 231). Yet, It was not in her
nature to busy herself with the fancies of suicide to which disappointed young people are
prone (DD 232). Gwendolens severe disappointment may seem overly reactive, but for
a young woman who says plainly, I desire to be independent (DD 221); Gwendolen
Harleth is shocked at facing the reality of her lack of options in attaining such a
privileged status. Rather, she is forced to compromise her identity and consent to a life of
dependence and domestic boredom under the thumb of an overbearing husband.
The restrictions and disenchantment in Gwendolens experience begin to create
wounds of disappointment and humiliation within her consciousness, which cause her to
have a nervous breakdown later on in the novel. Gwendolens desire to become an actress
and singer in order to support her mother and sisters is aggravated by Herr Klesmers
negative verdict of her talent and the reminder that money is not necessarily earned
instantaneously. Her response to Klesmers judgment is imagined in physical terms,
which points to the way emotional upheaval can feel like physical pain and vulnerability.
The narrator describes how His words had really bitten into her self-confidence and
turned it into the pain of a bleeding wound (DD 222). Klesmers words are inscribed on
her body and her mind. Furthermore, the truth she had asked for with an expectation that
3 The British physician, Dr. Henry Head points out, If, for example, a patient expresses
to you a moral repugnance to taking food, it is well to consider whether her statement
does not hide some real cause for moral doubt and anxiety (Head 829). Gwendolens
moral doubt and anxiety is likely caused by Grandcourts affections and her promise to
Lydia not to accept him; but after the familys financial collapse, Gwendolen rethinks her
compulsorily sense of loyalty to Lydia and her children.
23


it would be agreeable, had come like a lacerating thong (DD 224). After Klesmer
disillusions her, and points out her naivete regarding the life of an artist, she reels from
the idea of being so exposed, and forms The belief that to present herself in public on
the stage must produce an effect such as she had been used to feel certain of in private
life, was like a bit of her fleshit was not to be peeled off readily, but must come with
blood and pain (DD 217). Gwendolens agonizing acceptance of a restricted and
domestic life is related in bodily terms, which signifies her inability to cope with these
newly formed wounds inflicted by being thought insignificant, untalented, and fragile.
Paradoxically, in trying to conceal her wounds, she instead embodies her emotions as her
irrepressible hysterical condition becomes more pronounced.
Paroxysms of Fear
The small taste of independence and power for Gwendolen lies in either her
acceptance or denial of marriage to Grandcourt, an acceptance that would render her a
wife, a state of total dependence in the Victorian era.4 When Gwendolen Gets Her
Choice {DD Bk. IV), the narrator explains, again she seemed to be getting a sort of
empire over her own life but also, Here came the terror {DD 247). Her emotional
responseto Grandcourts courtship and Lydias bedeviling plea against itis panicky,
frantic, and anxious. The invocation of terror suggests Gwendolen experiences a
moment of paralysis in regaining a sense of control over her own life. In order to
overcome this frozen state, she writes a letter in response to Grandcourts request: She
4 Gwendolens thoughts never dwelt on marriage as the fulfillment of her ambition; the
dramas in which she imagined herself a heroine were not wrought up to that close. To be
very much sued or hopelessly sighed for as a bride was indeed an indispensible and
agreeable guarantee of womanly power; but to become a wife and wear all the domestic
fetters of that condition, was on the whole a vexatious necessity {DD 30).
24


was so moved by a new rush of ideas, that like one conscious of being urgently called
away, she felt that the immediate task must be hastened: the letter must be written, else it
might be endlessly deferred (DD 249). Here, Gwendolen is actively suppressing her
knowledge of Lydia and her children, which arguably may not be the best choice. The
accelerated pace with which this passage is related foreshadows the spiraling loss of self-
control and hysterical breakdown that overwhelms Gwendolens experience more fully
upon marriage. Once Gwendolen consents to marry Grandcourt, conscious of his
responsibility to Lydia, Her right to explanation was gone [; all] she had to do now was
to adjust herself, so that the spikes of that unwilling penance which conscience imposed
should not gall her {DD 277). The need for Gwendolen to go through a psychological
adjustment is related in physically torturing terms, which figuratively exhibits the
hysterics painful bodily manifestations of her mental and emotional disturbances.
Gwendolen is compelled to suppress her voice and her desire to defend and explain
herself, and therefore ends up falling into a hysterical breakdown, which illustrates the
way hysteria steps in for the silenced voice.
Gwendolens attempt to repress her feelings of terror, disappointment, betrayal,
and rebellion is at first feasible, illustrating the manner in which experience and
environment can exacerbate the emotions and lead to protest in the form of an
uncontrolled nervous breakdown. The narrator relates, By-and-by she promised herself
that she should get used to her heart-sores {DD 367); which invokes a physically
discomforting awareness of her invisible wounds. The aspect of performance in
Gwendolens character is revealed in her unwillingness to disclose her inner turmoil; but
such acting is a performance of calm rectitude, in order to conceal hysteria, not a
25


performance of hysteria to undermine Grandcourts authority, as Lydias character
emphasizes. Gwendolen foresees a life filled with repression in that she feels she cannot
reveal her desire to protest her position. Her compelled performance as emotional
repression is not quite the professional, independent life of the actress she had formerly
envisioned. Hence, performance can be self-empowering or self-effacing, and,
Gwendolen, in not being able to embrace the former, must accept the latter because of her
lack of self-knowledge, the native force of her character, and her fear of emotional
exposure.5
In fact, Gwendolens self-control and ability to perform, as an unbothered and
calm woman, wanes as Grandcourts overbearing presence becomes constant and his
authority over her seems to tighten. Grandcourt accuses her of acting out (not
successfully performing a role) after she attempts to communicate with Daniel through
the turquoise necklace, rather than using direct speech. Marlene Tromp explains this
alternative way of speaking: Gwendolen, like Lydia, uses her jewels to communicate
furtively, and like Lydia, speaks through them her resistance to the position in which she
has been placed by Henleigh [Grandcourt] (Tromp 461). Gwendolen tries to perform a
feminine style of communication to circumvent Grandcourts authority. After she does so,
however, Grandcourt tells her: Oblige me in the future by not showing whims like a
madwoman in a play. He rates her behavior on this occasion damnably vulgar (DD
383), and she likely becomes humiliated and even more desperate to speak out. Really,
5 Although Eliots narrator refers here to Gwendolens strangulation of the canary-bird,
this passage evokes her continued determination to appear emotionally impenetrable:
Gwendolens nature was not remorseless, but she liked to make her penances easy, and
now that she was twenty and more, some of her native force had turned into a self-control
by which she guarded herself from penitential humiliation (DD 18).
26


Gwendolen longs to regain self-control and the ability to conceal her tormented and
wounded consciousness; she even asks Daniel, But if feelings rosethere are some
feelingshatred and angerhow can I be good when they keep rising? And if there
came a moment when I felt stifled and could bear it no longer (DD 388). Her broken-
off appeal to Daniel reveals her feelings of hatred and anger against her husband that
threaten to knock her emotionally and psychologically off balance. This appeal indicates
how at a moments hand a hysterical breakdown can ensue if a woman feels
overwhelmed, stifled, powerless, and desperate to speak or act out.
Gwendolens mental state, which is perhaps dominated by an evil genius (DD
3), is invoked in the first scene of the novel as a way for Eliot to set up the process by
which Gwendolen literally becomes hysterical. The mysterious progression of hysteria
may not have an external or a visible organic source, but as the nineteenth-century British
physician, Dr. Anderson postulates, The influence that educationthat is to say, mental
traininghas on hysteria is so paramount, that I think it may fairly be adduced as
evidence of the disease itself being a mental one (Anderson 839). In fact, Gwendolens
education has set her up as a lady, and what remained of all things knowable, she was
conscious of being sufficiently acquainted with through novels, plays, and poems {DD
31). Her education has not been wanting on the basis of French and music either, the
justifying accomplishments of a young lady (DD 31), and consequently, in combination
with her beauty, the narrator explains, Always she was the princess in exile (DD 32).
Formally educated as a lady and nurtured as a princess, Gwendolen seems the
embodiment of Dr. Andersons trained and educated female hysteric. Furthermore, Anna
O. is also described by Joseph Breuer as possessing considerable intelligence,
27


remarkably acute powers of reasoning, and a clear-sighted intuitive sense, her powerful
mind could have digested, needed even, more substantial intellectual nourishment, but
failed to receive it once she had left school (Freud 25). The lack of meaningful work or
creative release may culminate in feeling stifled by pent up emotional and intellectual
excesses that threaten to surface and erupt no matter what.
By setting Gwendolen up as spoiled and child-like, Eliot highlights certain issues
of class and gender that can be found in nineteenth-century medical explanations for
hysteria. The title of Book I, The Spoiled Child, certainly resonates with Dr.
Andersons interpretation as well in that Hysterical patients usually have been what are
called spoiled children, and the comparative want of the exercise of self-denial and self-
control is a condition naturally affecting the mind (Anderson 839). In his article, Dr.
Anderson continues his analysis of the hysterical patient and states, we know it is not so
much overwork which predisposes to hysteria, as we should rather expect if the disease
were dependent on some physical lesion, but the want of work, the want of mental
employment (Anderson 839). Hence, Gwendolens restricted, gendered, and classed
position, as a lady in Victorian England, allows for no meaningful work, which renders
her always bored (DD 9) and unbearably stifled while knitting (DD 250), symptoms
which perilously allude to her nervous breakdown.
Gwendolen Harleth seems to embody the fear-ridden form of the hysterical figure.
Henry Head, a physician after Eliots time, and therefore after the publication of Daniel
Deronda, speaks retrospectively to the fits of fright that overwhelm the female hysterics
consciousness. He writes, Fear is the most potent reason for repression [...] deep down
lies fear, ready to spring into being when inhibition is removed (Head 829). Fear, even
28


terror, dominates Gwendolens consciousness and momentarily paralyzes her in a state of
shock as seen especially in the Hermione episode of the novel. When the movable panel
in the piano is flung open, Gwendolen, playing Hermione, lets out a piercing cry and
stands with a change of expression that was terrifying in its terror (DD 49). The
narrator further describes her intense fright in this scene: She looked like a statue into
which the soul of Fear had entered: her pallid lips were parted; her eyes, usually
narrowed under their long lashes, were dilated and fixed (DD 49). Gwendolen is
emotionally and even physically overwrought with fear, which explains her susceptibility
to the more pronounced fits of hysteria later on in the novel. Furthermore, the narrator
describes Gwendolens wish to dismiss from her own and every one elses memory any
case in which she had shown her susceptibility to terror (DD 51); this remark shows her
desire to repress her impulse and avoid appearing vulnerable, which may lead to eventual
reemergence of fear, culminating in a fit of hysteria. In fact, she wondered at herself in
these occasional experiences, which seemed like a brief remembered madness, an
unexplained exception from her normal life (DD 51). It is made clear in the novel that
Gwendolens emotional state is associated with terror, madness, and an undesirable
sense of vulnerability, which she attempts but fails to conceal. Rather than playing
Hermione in a play, Gwendolen appears as the tableau vivant of hysteria in that she is
sculpted as a statue into which the soul of Fear had entered, which reveals
Gwendolens form of petrified hysteria as an embodiment of her fear.
Making a Hysterical Scene
The scenes of Gwendolens acute fits of hysteria exhibit the liability of hers to
fits of spiritual dread and fits of timidity or terror (DD 52) that overwhelm her
29


consciousness and emote physically. In these scenes, her body is displayed as the locus in
which her conscience erupts in the form of hysterical screams and sobs, trembling hands,
paleness, and even bodily collapse. The key instances of hysteriathe wedding-night,
Grandcourts death, and her confessions to Daniel-show Gwendolen in a state of
nervous breakdown and confrontation with her sense of enraging powerlessness and self-
disapproval. These fits place Gwendolen in a piteous position that redeems her
character as an intensely feeling, compassionate, and repentant being with whom the
audience is implored to identify rather than dismiss as simply a hypochondriacally,
irrational, and spoiled figure.
Act I
On the wedding-night, Gwendolen receives the jewel-case containing the
diamonds, promised to her by Grandcourt, but delivered to her from Lydia, with a letter
accusing her of betrayal, injury, and a willing wrong that will be her curse (DD 303),
and the cause for her first hysterical fit. The narrator explains that Truly here were
poisoned gems, and the poison had entered into this poor young creature (DD 303),
which signifies an appeal to the reader to treat Gwendolen, in this scene, with sympathy
rather than censure because she is poisoned as though by an infectious disease beyond
her control. Her hysterical reaction to Lydias letter and the sight of her new husband
expose Gwendolens helplessness, loss of control, and naivety: Grandcourt did not intend
to marry Lydia, as she claims in her letter, and, out of remorse and fear, Gwendolen bums
this letter rather than appealing to her husband. This reaction to betrayal and forced
reflection of her own guilt render her at first stiff and detached as if turned to stone; She
could not see the reflections of herself then: they were like so many women petrified
30


white; but coming near herself you might have seen the tremor in her lips and hands. She
sat so for a long while, knowing little more than she was feeling ill (DD 303). This
description reflects Gwendolen as split into many women, which evokes a more
universal and compassionate, yet still ambivalent and self-divided, reading of her
situation. Evelyn Ender remarks, The grammatical error and ambiguity of the reflexive
herself reveal then the multiplicity of subjective positions involved in the scene of
hysteria (Ender 25). The tremor of her pale figure, petrified white and feeling ill
is a distressing yet wonderfully aesthetic representation of the feminine body on the brink
of a nervous breakdown, which illustrates her as an embodiment of the terrified female
hysteric. When Grandcourt enters the boudoir to take Gwendolen down to dinner, The
sight of him brought a new nervous shock, and Gwendolen screamed again and again
with hysterical violence (DD 303). Her hysterical fit dominates the nuit de noces and
creates the initial destructive rift between herself and her husband. Yet, at the same time,
Gwendolen is transformed into this emblematic figure of female hysteria that other
petrified women could perhaps relate to.
Through the interpretation of this scene in relation to female hysteria, an
empathetic understanding and emotional attachment is forged between the writer, the
reader, and the hysteric. Ender argues,
In the heroines hysterical screaming and in the tremor of her lips and
hands, the representation meets the writing, and the difference between
what writes and what gets written vanishes. A moment like this enables us
to touch, at some tangential point, the unsayable and unrepresentable that
haunts the imagination of the woman holding the pen.
31


(Ender 267)
Hence, Eliot herself seems fully absorbed in her art here, which implies there is a slight
loss of the self and entry into the creations consciousness involved in the act of writing
on hysteria. As Wilfred Stone remarks, [Gwendolen] emerges as one of Eliots most
alive and complex creations, a brilliant study in depth. If Deronda is, for Eliot, an ideal
self, then Gwendolen is a shadow self that her author both hates and loves, envies and
repudiatesand agonizes to know (Stone 29). In his reading, Stone reveals the
ambivalence and agony with which Eliot approaches Gwendolen as well as her
embodiment of female hysteria.
The feelings of violence and shock that are evoked through Gwendolens
paroxysms perhaps symbolize the pent up emotional restraint and constant fear female
writers may experience. Helene Cixous speaks to the anxiety female authors in particular
deal with. She writes: I, too, said nothing, showed nothing; I didnt open my mouth, I
didnt repaint my half of the world. I was ashamed. I was afraid, and I swallowed my
shame and my fear. I said to myself: You are mad (Cixous 875). Cixous evokes the
feelings of fear, madness, excess, violence, and shame associated with the hysteric and
the writer. Therefore, in Gwendolens experience, her terror, shame, and attempt to
defend her conscience against her own ethical dilemma uncontrollably erupt, which
causes her to react hysterically by incoherently screaming instead of embracing her
emotional state and enacting a more effective, intentional, and therefore empowering
form of self-expression. In fact, for Eliot, intentionally taking on a male name to express
her voice may have guaranteed her a more receptive audience in the Victorian era.
32


Act II
The boating excursion to Italy, which culminates in Grandcourts death, is fraught
with nervousness, dread, and excitement. Before his death is related, this scene sets up
another breach of Gwendolens self-control. On the boat, Gwendolen spoke wildly of
the Flying Dutchman after she suddenly let her hands fall, and said in a scarcely audible
tone, God help me! (DD 584), which illustrates how she figuratively slips out of
control, literally lets go of the tiller, and begins to feel wildly passionate, maniacal, and
doomed. But, she takes the rope back up...
Gwendolen is afterwards shown coming out of the boat, herself having broken
down, but without the oppressive, haunting physical presence of Grandcourt by her side.
Coincidentally, Daniel is in Genoa and sees her appearing as a stereotypical image of
female madness:
Gwendolen half raising herself on her hands, by her own effort, under her
heavy covering of tarpaulin and pea-jacketspale as one of the sheeted
dead, shivering, with wet hair streaming, a wild amazed consciousness in
her eyes, as if she had waked up in a world where some judgment was
impending, and the beings she saw around were coming to seize her.
(DD 587)
She expects and fears judgment and people coming to seize her, which signifies a
fearful awareness of how Victorian madwomen were dealt with; but also, significantly,
her shock and excitement are exhibited here in that her release from marriage to
Grandcourt occurred through his death.6 Moreover, the death of Grandcourt represents
6 Gwendolen excitedly blurts out: It is come, it is come! He is dead! (DD 587)
33


Gwendolens liberation from patriarchal dominance and the disturbing sense of captivity
and fear under such pressure. Gwendolens desired release from patriarchal control
emotes in the form of hysteria due to her inability to gauge what really plagues her: her
husband, herself, or the entire network of social forms that led up to this marriage.
Act III
The subsequent hysterical scene depicts Gwendolen collapsed in a chair in her
hotel room as she confesses to Daniel, in a fragmentary way (DD 592), what happened
on the boat. The suppression of her voice perhaps indicates her conflicted emotional
reaction to her husbands death, as she is certainly not grieving the loss, but she is also
aware that the actual manifestation is quite shocking and her malevolent wish to see him
die is perhaps ethically imprudent. Gwendolens nervous disposition and emotional
disturbance in the confession scene belies her attempt at concealment when Daniel
witnesses a shudder pass through her and The tremor, the childlike beseeching in her
words as her poor quivering lips went on (DD 591). Her emotional and mental distress
seeps out of her and presents physically through these shuddering tremors and display of
childlike helplessness. Gwendolen tries to relate her harrowing experience to Daniel,
but her speech is interrupted by her emotional paroxysms and becomes too unregulated
and jarring for him to fully understand her.
Gwendolen attempts to reveal her secrets, as Freud suggests for overcoming
hysteria, yet this scene does not show the endeavor as easy and altogether comforting.
The narrator describes how she suddenly started up, stretching her arms to their full
length upward (DD 594); here, she seems to be desperately protesting her experience in
marriage. Gwendolen does finally express herself, but only seems to become more
34


confused in the process. She says: I have been a cruel woman! What can I do but cry for
help? I am sinking. Diedieyou are forsakengo down, go down into darkness.
Forsakenno pity/shall be forsaken (DD 594). Her entreaty is fragmented and wild,
which exhibits her desperate appeal for help and sympathy, yet at the same time, her
conflicted desire for such attention. The British physician, Dr. Watson, comments on the
hysterics manner of speaking: It is curious to observe the mental character of the
hystericalthe vacillating tone, and the halting between two opinions, which
characterizes the statement of their sufferings (Watson 905). Dr. Watson continues and
adds, the tide of unconnected thought, feeling, and expression, sweeps on, and total
incoherence is established (Watson 905). The doctors language curiously mimics
Gwendolens in that they are both using water metaphors to describe the hysterical
experience, which may reveal the fluidity and emotional deluge associated with the
nature of this disorder.
Gwendolens speech is disturbingly vague, even to herself. She seems to be
confusing herself with her memorys image of her drowning husband and feels she is
now sinking and drowning under the pressure of her emotional state. In fact, her effort
to speak and express her conscience weighs heavily on her and affects her physically:
She sank in her chair again and broke into sobs (DD 594). Ellen Rosenman observes
Gwendolens confession to Daniel as Breaking off and then beginning again, brooding
chaotically on a kaleidoscope of emotions, filled with allusions to Grandcourts sadism
and Lydia Glashers curse which Deronda cannot possibly interpret (Rosenman 241).
Her sobbing renders her in a state of unreadable passionate distress, in which she is
35


emotionally conflicted, psychologically bewildered, and can no longer compose herself
but entirely breaks down.
Through her confession, Gwendolen seems to become a sympathetic and even
martyr-like representation of the female hysteric. In these key scenes of hysteria,
Gwendolen exhibits her helplessness and distress through uncontrolled emotional
paroxysms. However, there is a glimmer of hope for Gwendolens recovery at the closing
of the confession scene. The narrator relates that her remorse was the precious sign of a
recoverable nature; it was the culmination of that self-disapproval which had been the
awakening of a new life within her (DD 597). Gwendolens responsibility for her own
decisions becomes clearer to her, but no less hard to face, and hysteria functions as her
entry into self-consciousness, or self-awareness. Furthermore, that thorn-pressure which
must come with the crowning of the sorrowful Better, suffering because of the Worse
{DD 597), indicates that through her hysterical fit, Gwendolen has learned from painful
suffering and is now able to accept personal responsibility and become self-reflective and
penitent.
This awakening into self-consciousness is related as physically painful,
however. Gwendolens inner conflict manifests through physical pain, but an opportunity
for self-expression might allow her to heal. Breuer remarks, in his case study of Anna O.,
how completely her psyche was relieved once, gripped with fear and horror, she had
reproduced and talked through all these nightmarish images (Freud 33). Gwendolens
confession, then, although vague, still allows her to overcome her ambivalent attitude
regarding her husbands death and consequent liberation from patriarchal fetters.
Furthermore, evocative of the psychoanalysts talking cure, Daniel has listened to
36


Gwendolens confession and kept an analysts distance from her. Daniel decides to leave
her, not dispassionately, but in feeling completely unmanned (DD 594) from witnessing
her hysteria, which exhibits the confusion, mystification, and alarm with which male
doctors likely reacted to hysterical women in fear that empathy would unman them.
Ender points out, the confessional mode of their conversations, where the heroine
represents to the hero her beliefs, her emotions, and her fears, and, moreover, her
increasing dependence on such moments create a transferential stage similar to that of the
Freudian talking cure (Ender 239). This penultimate scene of Gwendolens hysteria, in
which some of her self-disapproval, fear, and guilt have been expelled, illustrates how
psychological and emotional distress can manifest through the body when an excess of
such energetic passion erupts against the sufferers will.
In the last scene of her hysteria, Daniel must hurriedly leave Gwendolen since, as
a male observer, he does not know how to deal with her. The narrator explains, that
Daniel is worn in spirit by the perpetual strain of this scene {DD 601), which denotes
the figurative violence in the scene of hysteria that renders both sufferer and observer
exhausted. Such mutual agony potentially forms an emotional attachment and
sympathetic understanding between human beings, in which hysteria is the catalyst; yet,
Daniels emotional and spiritual attachment is loyal to Mirah. Gwendolens isolation at
this juncture reveals her position as entirely misunderstood and marginalized. Eliots
narrator describes the closing stages of the confession scene: Gwendolen sank on her
knees, in hysterical crying. The distance between them was too great. She was a banished
soul {DD 601). Since Gwendolen is still immersed in and overwhelmed by her emotions
she cannot yet perceive any such possibility for human connection, or, for her own
37


liberation and recovery from hysteria. This hysterical fit renders her emotionally let down
and physically defeated: She was found in this way, crushed on the floor. Such grief
seemed natural in a poor lady whose husband had been drowned in her presence (DD
601). Gwendolens response to her ill-fated marriage, conflicted emotions, sense of
powerlessness, imaginative exploits, and disappointment culminates in hysterical
breakdown, and leaves her figuratively and literally crushed; and sadly, Eliots narrator
divulges the fact that polite society just does not care anyway and life goes on so to
speak.
In Closing
By reading Gwendolen Harleth through the lens of hysteria, her character is
rendered more complex and sympathetic rather than simply spoiled and superficial. The
primary scenes of Gwendolens hysteria show how she is trapped and powerless in her
gendered role, as well as her terrifying awakening into self-consciousness and recognition
of personal responsibility. However, Gwendolen is still able to emit a desperate objection
to her stifling role and sense of awakened consciousness. The fleeing figure on the
moveable panel perhaps symbolizes Gwendolens desire to take flight from her own
limited and wounded existence, but it is her ambivalence in doing so that leads to a
nervous breakdown. Eliots narrator relates the limitations in Gwendolens experience;
yet at the same time her own failure to step beyond them:
She rejoiced to feel herself exceptional; but her horizon was that of the
genteel romance where the heroines soul poured out in her journal is full
of vague power, originality, and general rebellion, while her life moves
38


strictly in the sphere of fashion; and if she wanders into a swamp, the
pathos lies partly, so to speak, in her having on her satin shoes.
(DD 43)
Her dissatisfaction with herself, her social position, and her biological lot, renders her
bored, disappointed, stifled, and eventually enraged. Ender points out, how the wounded
woman responds to the trauma with a body in motion, a body as emotion that erupts into
screaming and shrieking (Ender 257). Such psychological distress erupts once it
becomes too oppressive to hold in and the sufferer becomes the embodied version of her
emotional state. Gwendolens experience is not wholly powerless and damaging,
however, and she is in fact liberated at the end of the novel. Her patriarchal keeper is
submerged under water, which metaphorically links his death to the fluid nature of
female hysteria that has the potential to subsume and kill off the tyrannical father figure.
39


CHAPTER 4
MIRAH LAPIDOTH
The Waif
His mind glanced over the girl-tragedies that are going on in the world, hidden,
unheeded, as if they were but tragedies of the copse of hedgerow, where the
helpless drag wounded wings forsakenly, and streak the shadowed moss with the
red moment-hand of their own death.
figure 4.11
The theme of female hysteria in Daniel Deronda is exhibited more subtly through
Mirahs character than that of Gwendolen. She is arguably the true heroine of the novel,
replacing Gwendolen as Daniels ideal female partner and spiritual companion. However,
Susan Ostrov Weisser may disagree in that she considers Mirah as merely present in the 1
1 Source: .
40


domineering presence. A conflicted sense of duty versus disobedience urge Mirah to
repress her desire to escape her fathers jurisdiction, and she set [herself] to obey and
suffer: what else could [she] do (DD 183)? This attempt to obey her father and
suppress her mental and emotional state does not last; she explains, But my mind got
into war with itself, for there were contrary things in it (DD 189), illustrating an inner-
conflict and mental agitation that often manifests through the act of hysterical release.
The notion of pudor, as concealment of shame, illustrates Mirahs sense of
humiliation in doing wrong and also having her body being forcibly put on display,
feelings that she conceals in order to comply with her fathers demands. Ender describes
pudor as involving the notions of negation, denial, or erasure; this is in contrast to
hysteria, where the emphasis falls on the display of symptoms and turns the body into a
spectacle (Ender 52). Mirahs body has been on the stage since childhood, and she reacts
against her objectified position in order to resist remaining simply a spectacle. Pudor, or
shame of revealing the inner-self or emotional self, is the counterpart to hysteria that can
perhaps be a way for Mirah to resist acting out hysterically, as Gwendolen does, and
retain her sense of self-possession. The notion of pudor in the novel moves from the
symbolic, internalized feelings of shame, outward, to Daniel seeing her literally covering
herself: The poor thing, overcome with terror at this sign of discovery from the opposite
bank, sank down on the brink again, holding her cloak but half out of the water. She
crouched and covered her face as if she kept a faint hope that she had not been seen {DD
161). Here, Mirah reacts to Daniels presence in order to resist being discovered and
disgraced by her suicidal action. Mirah also, overcome with terror, appears here to
react differently to fear than Gwendolen. Whereas Gwendolen becomes fully a spectacle
42


in her response to terror, as seen in the Hermione episode, Mirah resists spectacle and
instead attempts to negate her emotional state by covering her face.
Death, for Mirah, is a way to return to her mother and reclaim their spiritual
connection; thus, perhaps suicide in her case is the ultimate way to escape the oppression
of the father and recover the bond with the mother. She explains her feelings of despair
and desire to die: The world seemed miserable and wicked; none helped me so that I
could bear their looks and words; I felt that my mother was dead, and death was the only
way to her {DD 180). Mirahs self-consciousness and vulnerable emotional state have
led her to take action against her passivity and depression through, arguably, the most
desperate act available to her. Attempted suicide certainly falls under the broad array of
hysterical symptoms,3 and Mirahs despondent mental state is not surprising once her
story is related.
Mirah is given the opportunity to tell her story and she does so in a coherent
manner, unlike Gwendolens paralysis under emotions and her abrupt confessions, which
reveals Mirahs character as having already dealt with and somewhat avoided an acute fit
of hysteria because she escaped the oppressive presence of her father and also avoided
marrying a detested man.4 Mirah describes the Count her father wanted her to marry: his
3 For example, in Studies in Hysteria, Breuer observes the suicidal behavior of Anna O.,
which corresponds to Mirahs condition in that her physical condition deteriorated
increasingly: powerful suicidal impulses appeared (Freud 31); and she even exhibited a
period full of suicide attempts (Freud 32).
4 In 1922, the British physician, Henry Head claimed, Marriage without affection is an
impossible human relation; one of the simplest methods of escaping from such
difficulties is the development of a physical illness (Head 829). This notion also relates
to Gwendolens hysterical fits that perhaps allow her to deter her husbands affection and
attempt at intimacy.
43


face was heavy and grave except when he looked at me. He smiled at me, and his smile
went through me with horror: I could not tell why he was so much worse to me than other
men (DD 186). Mirahs deep sense of revulsion towards this man who leers at her and
intends to marry her reveal the terror of confinement and suffocation that comes from a
forced union with an unloved man. In addition, hysteria is generally an emotional
response to environmental factors such as the unbearably oppressive social, marital, and
sexual obligations that render women feeling physically vulnerable, horrified, and
smothered. One of Freuds hysterical patients, Katharina, describes her feelings,
commenting; I get so out of breath. Sometimes it catches me so that I think Im
suffocating (Freud 129).
Mirahs emotional and psychological distress is related in discomfortingly
claustrophobic terms as well. Mirah again attempts to justify her attempt to kill herself
and asks: What could I do? This life seemed to be closing in upon me with a wall of
fireeverywhere there was scorching that made me shrink (DD 189). The metaphorical
language of this remark speaks to the sense of hysterical suffocation, for Mirahs
internalized sense of fear is expressed as a wall of fire that would consume and
asphyxiate her. Freuds Katharina tells her analyst, when Ive got that [feeling], I dont
dare to go anywhere, I always think theres someone standing behind me whos going to
grab hold of me all of a sudden (Freud 129). Prior to her flight, Mirah attempted to
accept and only internally resist her enforced lifestyle by imagining a different life, apart
from reality, made up of the beautiful parts of the plays she was in. But, she recounts, it
was like a sharp knife always grazing me that we had two sorts of life which jarred so
with each other {DD 181). The deceit of her father and duality that attends performance
44


for Mirah begins to weigh too heavily upon her conscience and is expressed as a threat to
her physical body. Her fathers constant presence and his design to marry her off to a
count cause her to feel claustrophobic, terrified, and no longer accepting of her position.
The manner in which Daniel finds Mirah, and the impressions he forms of her,
mark this waif (DD 165) as having developed a deep sense of despair that feels
impossible either to overcome or to endure. The narrator remarks that his first
impression about her, that her mind might be disordered, had not been quite dissipated:
the project of suicide was unmistakable, and gave a deeper colour to every other
suspicious sign (DD 163). Daniel also perceives her confused state of mind that seems
to drift between imagination and reality: It seemed as if she were half roused, and
wondered which part of her impressions was dreaming and which waking. Sorrowful
isolation had benumbed her sense of reality, and the power of distinguishing outward and
inward was continually slipping away from her (DD 164). Here, it seems, Mirahs self-
control and grasp on reality slips away as in a hysterical fit, yet she remains timid
because she has internalized her state of mind as a way to protect herself from suspicion
and possibly incarceration in a madhouse or the poorhouse. Daniel compassionately
envisions how the servants at Park Lane might scare the mind already in a state of
dangerous susceptibility (DD 165). Mirahs highly sensitized mental state is
dangerously susceptible to sensory stimulation,5 which undoubtedly alludes to the
internalization of fear and paranoia that Daniel can perceive in her temperament.
5 [Daniel] had a shuddering sense of a lackey staring at this delicate, sorrowful image of
womanhoodof glaring lights and fine staircases, and perhaps chilling suspicious
manners from ladys-maid and housekeeper that might scare the mind already in a state
of dangerous susceptibility (DD 164-165).
45


Mirahs emotions are deeply thoughtful and spiritual, which illustrates her as an
entrancing, almost sacred, and aesthetic embodiment of depression. Mirah, with a look
of immovable, statue-like despair (DD 159) on the bank of the river, seems transformed
into a tableau vivant of emotion, like Gwendolen, but rather than fear, Mirah embodies
despair. Daniel realizes his recklessness and disrespect in observing this melancholic
figure and delicate, sorrowful image of womanhood (DD 164). Mirahs miserable and
despairing presence is transcribed onto an image of womanhood, which arguably
renders her figure a model of female melancholic hysteria, rather than petrified hysteria
as in Gwendolens case. The confining and suffocating servitude under an oppressive,
controlling father figure, however, can cause both forms of hysteria. When Mirah asks,
Is this world and all the life upon it only like a farce or a vaudeville, where you find no
great meanings? (DD 184), she pithily speaks to the conflict and sense of depression that
Gwendolen cannot seem to articulate, which reveals the variable nature of the hysterical
condition within the novel, as well as two understandable reactions to the female
experience: petrified terror and melancholic despair.
If the female body is in a state of agitation or despondence, woman threatens the
organization of the patriarchal social structure and is therefore confined. Mirah
unconsciously understands this trend when she relates how she felt immersed in a chaotic
world at the theatre: I hated our way of life [...] always there were men and women
coming and going, there was loud laughing and disputing, strutting, snapping of fingers,
jeering faces I did not like to look at (DD 181). She associates this way of life with what
46


a late-nineteenth-century psychiatric hospital must be like:6 I once saw a picture of a
madhouse, that I could never forget; it seemed to me very much like some of the life I
had seenthe people strutting, quarrelling, leeringthe faces with cunning and malice
in them (DD 187). The reality of Mirahs life has been the nightmare of the madhouse
where she imagines she might literally be locked up if she outwardly reacts or protests
her condition under patriarchal dominance. Mirah comes to accept her submissive
position, but such awareness and tolerance also renders her in a state of severe
melancholy.
Mirahs mental state is not unbalanced as much as it is deeply aware and sensitive
to her surroundings. The late-Victorian physician, Dr. Anderson, believes hysteria to be
the result of a certain degree of mental incapacitythe manifestation of a mental
weakness or derangement (Anderson 838). Such dispassionate dismissal of the patients
psyche as weak or deranged belittles and ignores her sensitivity and mental distress in
response to a harsh environment of male privilege that may actually be the causes for her
hysteria. Eliots narrator conveys this notion of mental incapacity in the hysteric and
challenges the physicians abrupt judgment: Mirah was not childlike from ignorance:
her experience of evil and trouble was deeper and stranger than [Daniels] {DD 190).
Mirahs mental capacity has been profoundly formed by her self-awareness of being a
Jewess, and her desire for spiritual connection in order to escape the cruel and prejudiced
6 Elaine Showalter notes, Inside the asylum, lunatics were to be classified and
segregated according to their disorders, but also according to their social class and sex
(Showalter 34). Mirahs dread of the madhouse is particularly terrible due to the reality
of being a poor, Jewish woman in Victorian England. In fact, Mirah says, I was lost
again, and I dreaded lest any stranger should notice me and speak to me. I had a terror of
the world. None knew me; all would mistake me {DD 189).
47


environment of Victorian England. Mirahs fear of judgment and emotional state, then, is
completely justified. By accusing the female hysteric of mental incapacity and
derangement, rather than marking environmental conditions that may cause the
disorder, Dr. Anderson, it seems, attempts to justify womans confinement and sustained
position under patriarchal judgment and supervision.
Mirahs melancholic form of hysteria culminates in a sense of paranoia and an
inability to sleep. She explains her epiphany regarding her fathers control over her,
which exhibits an understandable sense of suspicion since she convinces herself he plans
to incarcerate her either in marriage to an unloved count or in a madhouse. This mental
and emotional distress manifests in a rebellious attitude and an intensely nervous
disposition, which she relates as follows: I had seen what despised women were: and my
heart turned against my father, for I saw always behind him that man who made me
shudder (DD 187). Mirah, realizing that her audience might not believe her, adds, You
will think I had not enough reason for my suspicions, and perhaps I had not, outside my
own feeling (DD 187). This intimation of her confidence in her own feeling is a signal
of her movement into embodying her emotions, and Mirah gains agency by trusting in
her feelings rather than continuing to repress them. Mirah reveals her struggle with
insomnia by telling Daniel, If I slept, it was only to see the same sort of things, and I
could hardly sleep at all (DD 187). Her sleeplessness is perhaps due to her depression
and paranoid, guilt- and fear-ridden emotional state. Furthermore, insomnia exhibits the
feelings of unrest caused by morbid excitement and anxiety that attend Mirahs condition.
Although Mirahs melancholy form of hysteria renders her in a state of depression caused
by accepting submission to her father, her desperate flight and the subsequent guilt and
48


shame she experiences indicate how female hysteria is caused by an overwhelmingly
ambivalent relationship with the father.
49


CHAPTER 5
LYDIA GLASHER
The Widow
No one talked of Mrs Glasher now, any more than they talked of the victim in a trial for
manslaughter ten years before: she was a lost vessel after whom nobody would send out
an expedition of search.
(DD 128)
figure 5.11
In Lydias case, hysteria functions in part as a subversion of patriarchal authority
in that she threatens Grandcourt with her potential to put on a hysterical performance to
undermine and expose his unseemly past, while simultaneously convincing him she 1
1 Source:
50


remains submissive. In her work on hysteria and performance, Mady Schutzman remarks,
Hysteria is a validnot sick, not invalidsite of resistance (Schutzman 16). Lydias
threat to subvert patriarchal domination, and resist its neglect, associates her form of the
condition with calculated defiance and rebellion rather than a desperate response to the
fathers authority as in Mirahs case. However, there are certain aspects of the way Lydia
enacts hysteria that converge with Mirahs mental state and even Gwendolens behavior.
For instance, certain hysterical traits, such as childishness, repression, physical sensations
caused by emotional upheaval, and female protest, show Lydia as dangerously close to
exposing her actual emotional instability caused by years of marginalization, loneliness,
and disappointment. However, Lydia uses hysteria as a means to gain Grandcourts
sympathy and acquire a seemingly simple indulgence: delivering the diamonds to his new
wife. This indulgence, which is gained through her hysterical act, is destructive to both
Grandcourt and Gwendolen and is subversive insofar as Lydia convinces him that she is
acting under his influence.
Ironically, Lydia protests Grandcourts authority over her only to ensure her own
incarceration in the domestic realm. She undermines Grandcourts immediate authority,
but in fact, desires to bow to his ultimate authority in order to ensure social propriety for
her son and continue the patriarchal cycle. Lydia is aware of the danger in being
outwardly defiant of a pervasive and strongly established power structure; so, she
subverts this system on a minor level through her use of hysteria as protest in order to
ensure this system no longer ignores her. Her protest is entirely problematic, though,
since she ultimately desires to assert a legitimate place for herself and her son within this
51


imprisoning structure that fails to recognize her experience as anything other than her
relationships to the men in her life.
Performance used as manipulation, as a way to gain pity over the observer, was
seen as a central method of the hysterics tendency to malinger in order to gain attention.
In 1851, Dr. Watson claimed, A strong desire for sympathy of those around, which is
sometimes, unfortunately, to be obtained alone by the exhibition of the paroxysm, is one
grand cause of its excitement (Watson 905). Dr. Watson attributes hysteria in general to
the desire to gain attention and compassion, which Lydia deserves from her former lover,
Grandcourt. The physician ignores and trivializes the actual collapse into an emotional
paroxysm caused by real fear, disappointment, and despair as seen in Mirahs and
Gwendolens conditions. Likely, as a way to undermine the hysterics credibility, some
doctors simplified her complaints and paroxysms in order to discredit and compromise
her perfectly valid protestations. Although she undermines the authenticity of the
hysterical condition, Lydias performance of hysteria is indeed successful in that she
channels Grandcourts authority in the direction that benefits her desire and she gains
agency in doing so. Yet, Lydias empowerment and subversion through hysteria is
limited; she is still a widow and mother and remains alone in the bleak domestic realm of
Gadsmere.
At the same time, Lydias rate of emotion (DD 291) and stifled fury (DD
294) set her up as embodying a heightened and intensified emotional state in which she is
forced to repress the desire to express herself. However, perhaps from years of
dependence and isolated widowhood and motherhood, Lydia has learned to suppress her
emotional state as a way to protect herself and her children from Grandcourts cold
52


dispassion (and retain the stipend he provides). In fact, the narrator describes her keen
ability to manage her emotional torment: This woman with the intense eager look had
had the iron of the mothers anguish in her soul, and it had made her sometimes capable
of a repression harder than shrieking and struggle. But underneath the silence there was
an outlash of hatred and vindictiveness (DD 293) that she conceals. The hatred and
vindictiveness that she masks in order to retain Grandcourts financial support suggests
the subversive aspects of hysteria as a desperate and ambivalent protest against a
subservient, dependent position. In fact, Lydia seems able to mobilize her hysteria when
it is helpful, not destructive, to her situation because she is fully aware of her own
impulses.
Yet, before Lydia gains control over Grandcourt through her enactment of
hysteria, she appears to unconsciously exude some truly hysterical sensations and
behaviors. After Grandcourt announces his engagement to Gwendolen, she felt as
absolute a resistance as if her thin fingers had been pushing at a fast-shut door. She knew
her helplessness, and shrank from testing it by any appealshrank from crying [...] The
defeated clutch of struggling hope gave her in these first moments a horrible sensation.
At last she rose with a spasmodic effort (DD 292). In this passage feelings of
imprisonment, helplessness, fear, horrible physical sensations, and her spasmodic
movement, show Lydia as embodying her emotional upheaval as much as Gwendolen,
yet Lydia does not let these feelings entirely get the best of her.
Although, Lydias hysteria functions mainly as a form of defiance and protest
against male privilege, it becomes complicated in that her main goal is to fulfill the role
of an unresisting, meek Victorian wife. When Grandcourt asks, Do you mean to say,
53


[...] that you will not do as I tell you? Lydia answers, Yes, I mean that (DD 295), but
she realizes that this act of disobedience is dangerous and perhaps her calm and
determined attitude will not actually be enough to undermine Grandocurts authority. The
narrator describes Lydias position after asserting herself: The poor creature was
immediately conscious that if her words had any effect on her own lot, the effect must be
mischievous, and might nullify all the remaining advantage of her long patience {DD
295). Here, the internalization of patriarchal dominance has a powerful effect on Lydias
conscience as she feels she may have become mischievous, and damaged or invalidated
the little power she holds in her position as a the mother of this former lovers children.
Her ambivalent attempt to defy and protest her submissive role ignites a sense of regret
and anxiety as to what Grandcourts reaction might be. In fact, she more effectively
provokes him through mobilizing her ability to perform hysteria as a means to thwart his
immediate power over her and ruin his marriage to another woman.
Lydia realizes the perilous nature of hysterical defiance, which places her in the
borderlands of hysterical protest in that she seems to straddle the boundaries between a
real emotional outburst and an acted representation of the hysterical woman. After she
warns him that she could show up at the wedding if he does not indulge her, the narrator
describes her as not shrinking from the one suicidal form of threat within her power
{DD 295). The connection between hysteria and suicide is evoked here, as in Mirahs
case, but more importantly, Lydia is able to manage her hysteria, and by doing so, she
gains agency and begins to make Grandcourt squirm. His retort is quite telling, and
reveals that he is not so easily duped: Of course, if you like, you can play the
madwoman {DD 295), which is reminiscent of the way he insists that Gwendolen
54


oblige him by not showing herself as a madwoman in a play (DD 383). Grandcourt
seems to govern his women by undermining their ability to protest and assert themselves;
he accuses Lydia and Gwendolen of playing the part of a madwoman by expressing their
discontent, yet in Lydias case, she does not break or back down.
Rather, Lydia embraces the hysterical performance as a way to purposefully
emasculate Grandcourt and gain control over him in this particular situation. Once she
plays the hysteric, the narrator explains, Grandcourt had a baffling sense that he had to
deal with something like madness; he could only govern by giving way {DD 297). Now
that he becomes baffled by her behavior, Lydias performance of hysteria can subvert
the power structure, at least for the time being. She confuses Grandcourt by forcing him
into conjecturing upon whether or not she truly is mad. In fact, she somewhat baffles the
narrator and the reader as well, since there was a strange mixture of acting and reality in
this passion {DD 296). In addition, Schutzman favors the definition for hysteria as the
incapacity to differentiate between reality and illusion (Schutzman 9). In this scene,
Eliots narrator evokes such a confusing state of mind that disrupts the boundaries
between hysterical invention and emotional reality of the writer, the reader, and the
hysterical actress.
Lydias disruptive performance of hysteria commences when she begins to realize
that her desire to deliver the diamonds herself may elude her. She pleads:
Yes, I am foolishloneliness has made me foolishindulge me. Sobs
rose as she spoke. If you will indulge me in this one folly, I will be very
meekI will never trouble you. She burst into hysterical crying, and said
again almost with a scream-I will be very meek after that.
55


(DD 296)
She admits, and embraces, the idea of foolishness that is associated with hysterical
women, but she also hints at the impression that hysterics are known to cause trouble and
promises Grandcourt she will be meek, not troublesome, if he allows her one last
indulgence before his marriage. Lydia, arguably, is in control of this passion. The
narrator describes how she kept hold of her purpose as a child might tighten its hand
over a small stolen thing, crying and denying all the while (DD 296). She has a
purpose, or, a direct goal in mind. Although she clings to it childishly, Lydia is
consciously aware of her intention in this scene, which sets her apart from Gwendolen
who lapses into an actual and uncontrolled hysterical passion in Grandcourts presence.
Lydias daring routine is effective in that she reduces Grandcourts dominion over
her by confusing him and convincing him he really is dealing with a sort of madwoman,
an alternative version of the decorous woman he thought he knew. Marlene Tromp
remarks,
Lydias foray into performative madness, into a paradoxical behavior,
leaves Henleigh without access to his formidable arsenal of tortuous
language and behavior. Exposing and contrived by the tensions between
gentility and violence, her language, her hysteria, her protestations, shift
her from the realm of rationality and reason in which Henleigh has so
successfully operated.
(Tromp 460)
In a sense, Lydia unmans Grandcourt with her performative hysteria as she blocks his
arsenal of patriarchal domination so to speak. After her outburst of hysterical crying
56


and frenzied pleading, Grandcourt thinks: this capricious wish, this childish violence,
was as unlike Lydias bearing as it was incongruous with her person. Both had always
had a stamp of dignity on them. Yet she seemed more manageable in this state than in her
former attitude of defiance (DD 296). Lydia successfully performs the role of a hysteric
in order to subvert Grandcourts authority insofar as she has convinced him she remains
powerless although she does not. She makes him think that she is capricious,
childish, unlike and incongruous to herself, and not longer in defiance, but
manageable, which persuades him to let his guard down.
In Lydias veiled rebellion, she attempts to sabotage Grandcourts chance of
marital bliss with Gwendolen, but she also uses this hysterical performance as a way to
threaten his reputation and social standing, in essence bringing him down to her level.
She refuses to deliver the diamonds to him, but wishes to deliver them to Gwendolen
herself, which, as illustrated earlier, instigates Gwendolens hysterical fit on the wedding
night and causes the marital destruction that Grandcourt cannot possibly foresee. When
Lydia makes this demand, the situation becomes, to Grandcourt, too irritating that his
indulgence of Lydia had given her a sort of mastery over him in spite of her dependent
condition {DD 295). Here, Lydias dependence and mastery are evoked, which shows
how the hysteric can attempt to overcome her nominal position through disrupting the
patriarchal power structure that continues to bind her. As Schutzman posits, perhaps
readers should be embracing the hysterics insubordination (Schutzman 4) as a way to
empower the hysterical woman rather than simply read her as a victim. Although Lydia
subverts male dominance in an arguably minor way, her subversion of Grandcourts
57


power allows her to gain agency, ruin a marriage, and threaten the stability of patriarchal
control, at least within the immediate domestic sphere.
Lydias desire has likely become filling the role of a traditional Victorian wife
due to the repression of her first sons death, a memory that haunts her and urges her to
ensure legitimacy for herself and her children in the eyes of English society. The narrator
remarks, For the sake of that result she was prepared even with tragic firmness to endure
anything quietly in marriage (DD 288). Lydia is aware of her subordinate position under
Grandcourt, for she had had acuteness enough not to go molesting him with
passionate appeals and with scene-making (DD 288); yet, because of her repressed guilt
and disappointment, she evokes her emotional torment and threatens to create a public
scene as a way to gain control and protest Grandcourts ability to marry, while she
remains a widow and single mother. Lydia effectively undermines Grandcourt, which
Gwendolen is unable to do because she has not lived through years of isolation and regret
to the degree that Lydia has. Although Lydia is drawn as a less sympathetic character, the
melancholy position of this woman (DD 289) should prompt compassion for the
marginalization and loneliness of the widow figure. Lydias victimization is absolute; she
has dependants she cannot support without Grandcourt. It is through hysteria that Lydia
can confront Grandcourt and reveal his cruel treatment of her and their children, which
she would otherwise be unable to express given her dependent position.
Lydia embraces the hysteric as the embodiment of female protest and rebellion
who has the ability to undermine male dominance and gain her own unique sense of
power. The hysteric, in this sense, is duplicitous and malingering, which some physicians
58


accused patients of being;2 yet, Lydias performance seems half real because her
enactment of emotion comes from her actual feelings, and her empowerment is based on
the ability to rally them when necessary and conceal them at other times. Because Lydia
represses her mothers anguish, her relationship to hysteria is not simply a coldhearted,
deceitful performance, but is also a part of her deeply repressed and internalized
experience.
Lydias empowerment through hysteria relies on her ability to recognize and
manage these hysterical aspects of her personality. Schutzman notes, To utilize hysteria
as a strategy of resistance or healing is possible only by becoming conscious of our
hysterical performances (Schutzman 4), which is precisely how Lydias enactment of
hysteria is an intentional entrance into her emotional paroxysms. Lydia is able to use
hysteria as a way to influence Grandcourt and assert her desire without his being fully
aware of what she is doing. Perhaps, as Schutzman envisions, Lydia is able to surrender
to the instability of the hysterical performance while remaining vigilant to the inequities
of lived experiences (Schutzman 16). Lydias subversive performance of hysteria
reveals the insecurity and instability of the patriarchal structure since she is able to
challenge this system through a volatile act of defiance that appears harmless and easily
controllable. Hysteria, in the form of female protest, might never be contained and
understood by the domineering and cold, firm patriarchal custodians such as Grandcourt.
In fact, Grandcourt, the quintessential bad father, must die in order for female hysterical
2 British physician, Seth B. Watson seems to undermine Lydias performance of hysteria,
the female experience, and the hysterical condition in general. He postulates, Women,
with all their elegance and delicacy of perception, are not inventive, and rather work on
what has been already presented, than originate even a new form of disease (Watson
905). Hence, supposedly female hysterics simply mimic other diseases.
59


protest to truly subvert male dominance. The fact that the novel does kill him off suggests
that Lydia and Gwendolen are released from patriarchal authority, and, although not able
to entirely thrive, at least they survive this dreaded symbol of the tyrannical father.
60


CHAPTER 6
THE ALCHARISI
The Artist
I feel many things that I cant understand. A fatal illness has been growing in me
for a year. I shall very likely not live another year. I will not deny anything I have
done. I will not pretend to love where I have no love. But shadows are rising
round me. Sickness makes them. If I have wronged the deadI have but little
time to do what I left undone.
(DD 539)
figure 6.11
The Alcharisis1 2 body is in a state of deformed weakness from her experience
under patriarchal authority and the consequent emotional despair caused by the feelings
1 Source:
2 The professional name of Daniels mother is the Alcharisi. She was born, Leonora
Charisi, but when she became a singer she changed her name to the Alcharisi. Presently,
she is the Princess Helm-Eberstein; this title was gained from her second husband whom
she married after her career ended.
61


of confinement and enforced adherence to her fathers strict doctrines for her behavior.
Daniel observes his mother, and sees that Her worn beauty had a strangeness in it as if
she were not quite a human mother, but a Melusina, who had ties with some world which
is independent of ours (DD 536). The Alcharisi is portrayed as otherworldly because she
refused to remain tied to Victorian expectations and Jewish traditions. In giving up her
son in order to fulfill her ambition, a choice that is incomprehensible to a patriarchal
system of values, the Alcharisi is not quite a human mother, but a figure from French
folklore who sought revenge upon her father and is transformed into a grieving specter.3
The Alcharisi has been tom between her desireto embrace her artistryversus her
fathers tight hold upon her destiny, which she tried to overcome by giving up her son to
be raised as an English gentleman, rather than a descendant of her father. She
acknowledges becoming the shattered woman that [she is] now (DD 546), from years
of emotional concealment and rebellious desire. Ellen Rosenman observes that the
Alcharisi, or, Princess Halm-Eberstein is deformed by emotion, her potentially
liberating story is bent into a narrative loop returning obsessively to the paradigm of the
fathers authority and the daughters rebellion (Rosenman 245). The Alcharisi attempts
to recount, but not deny, her story to her son, which places her on the agonizing threshold
between emotional strain and physical deterioration.
The Alcharisi speaks in a manner unique to the female hysteric: she is
fragmentary, passionate, and uses her body to speak for her at times. Her story is split
into two installments, much like the hysterical confession scenes between Gwendolen and
3 Melusina, a beautiful woman who metamorphosed into a serpent once a week, was the
daughter of a siren whose father betrayed her mother, thus she sought revenge.
http://www.pitt.edU/~dash/melusina.html#france
62


Daniel. Rosenman notes, The unconventional structures of Gwendolens and the
princesss stories, recursive and elliptical, find conventional textual models inhospitable
and seek channels outside their exclusionary coherence (Rosenman 246). In order to
claim coherence, the hysteric must create an alternative avenue for self-expression. The
Alcharisi, at first, does not speak to her son in a traditional and rational mode of
discourse, which inscribes a uniquely feminine and hysterical aspect to her demeanor.
The mysterious elements of the Alcharisis experience can be read, rather, in her face as
her emotions have become embodied there. She examines her son with piercing eyes
and mobile facial features: For even while she was examining him there was a play of
the brow and nostril which made a tacit language. Deronda dared no movement; not able
to conceive what sort of manifestation her feeling demanded; but he felt himself changing
colour like a girl (DD 535). By speaking through this alternative style, where there is no
interlocution, Daniel is made uneasy, and, as a male listener, is again unmanned by the
female hysteric. The symbolic language of the female hysteric has the potential to
emasculate and destabilize her male observer since she speaks in a manner mysterious to
traditional patriarchal forms of speech. In fact, the Alcharisis facial expressions form a
tacit language, which suggests that coherent discourse and self-expression are not
simply achieved verbally.
The Alcharisi is depicted as the type of hysterical figure who fluctuates between
straightforward and more symbolic forms of self-expression, caused by a sense of
ambivalence in exposing her interiority and thus having to defend her decisions. In fact,
she declares: People talk of their motives in a cut and dried way. Every woman is
supposed to have the same set of motives or else be a monster. I am not a monster, but I
63


have not felt exactly what other women feelor say they feel, for fear of being thought
unlike others (DD 539). She posits that other women feel, or have felt, a desire to assert
their will but most are just too afraid to go through with it or even admit to such
rebellious feelings. Likely, the fear of being thought unlike others, thus monstrous, is
caused by an internalization of socially constructed rules for behavior. In fact, the
collision of personal desire and duty to patriarchy can result in emotional upheaval and
potentially cause a nervous breakdown.
The Alcharisis emotions have rendered her body fragile, which exhibits the way
emotional and psychological disturbances can manifest physically and may render the
body in a state of deterioration and even deathly disintegration. She tells Daniel, I am
suffering {DD 536). The powerful and physical effect of the emotions and the pressure
on the intellect renders these otherwise invisible forces real. The Alcharisi speaks to the
experience of the manifestation of the interior consciousness; she says, events come
upon us like evil enchantments: and thoughts, feelings, apparitions in the darkness are
eventsare they not {DD 540). The importance of paying attention to emotional and
mental processes as events is key to understanding hysteria. Emotional and spiritual
experiences affect the consciousness as much as, if not more than, outwardly shared
experiences. In trusting the feelings, as Mirahs character intimates, the body can retain
its integrity by avoiding a destructive hysterical condition. Additionally, Eliots narrator
relates the same encounter with intense emotions as an event for Gwendolen: The young
activity within her made a warm current through her terror and stirred towards something
that would be an event {DD 248). Rather than dismissing unseen pain and emotional
excitation as purely imaginary, perhaps the more destructive aspects of hysteria could be
64


evaded by understanding thoughts, feelings, [and] apparitions as potential life-changing
events, not exceptions from what would be considered normal.
For the Alcharisi, hysteria may be attributed to her attempt to banish her spiritual
connection to her overbearing father, and the resultant subconscious pressure of
repressed, conflicted emotions, and loss of faith. In response to her fathers suffocating
affection and control, the Alcharisi rejects an emotional and spiritual connection with her
son as well, which she admits with proud impetuosity. She says: but I had not much
affection to give you. I did not want affection. I had been stifled with it. I wanted to live
out the life that was in me, and not be hampered with other lives (DD 536-7). Her
rebellion against motherhood and filial affection comes from feeling stifled and
hampered by it, and unable to thrive and nourish her desire to live the myriad lives in
one {DD 537) that the independent life of an actress would fulfill. Of course marriage
and having a child in the Victorian era would be an encumbrance to her vivacious spirit,
but now, beleaguered by years of rebellion and performance, she lives a tame life {DD
537) as the Princess Helm-Eberstein. Her bonds both to her father and her son are
inescapable, and her hysterical demeanor belies her sense of suffocation under forced
submission to the men in her life.
The hysterical confusion between imagination and reality also plays a prominent
role in the Alcharisis story. Daniel picks up on this phenomenon that his mother invokes;
he thinks how he had lived through so many ideal meetings with his mother, and they all
seemed more real than this {DD 535). In a sense, the hysterical reaction to an
overwhelming confrontation with reality becomes contagious and Daniel feels the same
kind of unbalance and instability between reality and imagination that the hysteric
65


experiences. In fact, the Alcharisis passionate acknowledgment of her past and her
haunted psyche disrupt these boundaries. Eliots narrator describes her confession to
Daniel:
The varied transitions of tone with which this speech was delivered were
as perfect as the most accomplished actress could have made them. The
speech was in fact a piece of what may be called sincere acting: this
womans nature was one in which all feelingand all the more when it
was tragic as well as realimmediately became matter of conscious
representation: experience immediately passed into drama, and she acted
her own emotions.
(DD 539)
The Alcharisi, being the accomplished artist that she is, entirely and faultlessly embodies
her emotions and performs them, but they are no less real based on this notion of
conscious representation that she exudes. Eliot, through the narrator, defends the notion
that hysteria is a type of performance; it is a form of sincere acting of the emotions that
allows the sufferer to express discomfort and discontent. With no visible cause for the
condition, the hysteric runs the risk of not being believed, which in part, renders Lydias
performance of hysteria damaging to actual female hysterics, not simply just the
patriarchal figure that she unmans.
Eliots narrator claims this phenomenon of embodying her emotions is quite
ordinary, thus nothing to be ashamed about or thought to be suspicious: In a minor
degree this is nothing uncommon, but in the Princess the acting had a rare perfection of
physiognomy, voice, and gesture (DD 539). The split consciousness that plagues the
66
J


hysterical woman does not render the Alcharisis performance of emotion artificial or
deceptive: It would not be true to say that she felt less because of this double
consciousness: she feltthat is, her mind went throughall the more, but with a
difference: each nucleus of pain or pleasure had a deep atmosphere of the excitement or
spiritual intoxication which at once exalts and deadens (DD 539). Therefore, the double
consciousness of the Alcharisi, and other hysterical women, is such that she feels deeply
contradictory, enveloped, and intoxicated in simultaneously feeling pain and pleasure,
excitement and numbness, much like the double-consciousness that Gwendolen, Mirah,
and Lydia experience in the embodiment of their emotions.
Most importantly, however, Eliots narrator gestures that the embodiment of
emotional despair and excitement is common, at least in a minor degree, for most every
woman, but especially affects her if she deeply desires to escape captivity under her
patriarchal keepers rule. The Alcharisi tells Daniel, I hated living under the shadow of
my fathers strictness. Teaching, teaching for everlastingthis you must be, that you
must not bepressed on me like a frame that got tighter and tighter as I grew {DD
540). The Alcharisis relationship to her father is similar to Mirahs here; both women
react internally to the suffocative restraint placed upon them by their fathers. For years
they both obey their fathers demands, but eventually act out in order to relieve the
pressure of the overbearing father figure. The Alcharisi relates her feelings of oppression
in terms that invoke torture and confinement, which suggests the only way to escape from
patriarchal authority, is for the fatherthe symbol of patriarchal dominanceto die.
The manacles of patriarchy appear dreadfully inescapable to the Alcharisi. She
disallows even Daniel to try and understand her position; she tells him, You are not a
67


woman. You may trybut you can never imagine what it is to have a mans force of
genius in you, and yet to suffer the slavery of being a girl. To have a pattern cut out (DD
541). Yet, the Alcharisi did not let herself feel disempowered and victimized by the
enslaving force of her fathers authority, but waited it out until an opportunity to escape
arose. She reveals an escape route from the life of duty and submission in her confession,
for, she says: when a womans will is as strong as the mans who wants to govern her,
half her strength must be concealment. I meant to have my will in the end, but I could
only have it by seeming to obey (DD 542). Paradoxically, the Alcharisis rebellion is
achieved through submission and concealment, which subverts the power structure with
its own rules for female behavior, which is similar to the way Lydia uses hysteria as a
means to surreptitiously subvert Grandcourts authority, yet she does so to his face.
The Alcharisis domineering tyrannical father is not entirely villainous like
Grandcourt, however. Her father was, she says: A man to be admired in a playgrand,
with an iron will [...] But such men turn their wives and daughters into slaves. They
would rule the world if they could; but not ruling the world, they throw all the weight of
their will on the necks and souls of women. But nature sometimes thwarts them (DD
541). The father figure is admirable, grand and powerful, but rules and controls his
slaves with an iron will, which evokes the masculine enterprise of imperial
dominance as well as the consequent sense of captivity unique to the female experience.
The Alcharisi reveals how the heavy influence of the oppressive father threatens to choke
and dominate the bodies and spirits of the women in his life. However, the Alcharisi
points to the potential liberation from patriarchal authority for wives and daughters
when she hints, nature sometimes thwarts controlling men. In fact, the death of her
68


father and her first husband provided the Alcharisi with the opportunity to escape male
dominance and assert her ambition and independence as a professional artist. Perhaps the
only way to escape the influence of male-dominated social institutions and traditions is to
kill off the father figure. But, of course, ones father never dies; the spirit of her dead
father disturbingly haunts the Alcharisi. Perhaps, then, the death of the father as a way to
overcome the hysterical condition is just not enough.
69


CHAPTER 7
CONCLUSION
The Textual Embodiment of Emotion
Ask me not what I think; the unwilling brain
Feigns often what it would not; and we trust
Imagination with such phantasies
As the tongue dares not fashion words,
Which have no words, their horror makes them dim
To the minds eye. My heart denies itself
To think what you demand.
(Shelley 185)1
All four of the central female characters in Daniel Deronda have an ambivalent
relationship with the father figure, as the symbol of patriarchal authority, and find
themselves torn between subservience and rebellion. It seems, then, that the oppressive
father figure is the principal cause for female hysteria. The different types of hysteria in
the novel function on a sort of pendulum as these women swing back and forth between
intentionally embodying their emotional state and subconsciously repressing their mental
agitation. The major similarities that Gwendolen and Mirah share in their hysterical
condition are fear and melancholy, whereas Lydia and the Alcharisi seem to both perform
their emotional state in a controlled, even performative manner. Lydia, too, is described
1 from The Cenci, Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley,
Vol. 2 London: Bradbury and Evans, 1839.
Epigraph to Chapter LIV of Daniel Deronda.
70


as being in a melancholy position, and Mirah expresses her disapproval of deceitful
performances, which connects the way their hysteria manifests similarly but also how
they simultaneously oppose one another on another level. Gwendolens spiritual dread
merges a possible cause for her hysteria to the Alcharisis condition in that her defiance
of faith ends up haunting her as well. All four women fluctuate between intentionality of
hysterical display versus unconscious and uncontrollable eruptions of passionate feeling.
The desire to rebel against and undermine the father figure does cause each of
their forms of hysteria, however, which calls attention to the patriarchy as being initially
at fault for womens emotional torment. In a way, hysterical display creates a spectacle
that is hard to ignore and even harder to keep still as hysteria ultimately resists
confinement and submission to patriarchal control. Marlene Tromp speaks specifically to
the ambivalent experience of women, that is, the sense of fear and simultaneous desire to
rebel against the father, and the consequent act of hysteria. Tromp explains, Once
articulated, sensation provides a rhetoric for introducing these issues into convention,
offering a framework for the material experience of women who could not describe their
fears otherwise (Tromp 456). Sensation can be read as a genre, or, a feeling that has
already been decoded as a type of event. Moreover, Tromp describes these issues,
transformed into events, as the connection between womens fear, madness,
performance, and [the] resultant escape (Tromp 458), events that Eliot develops and
demonstrates from the onset of Daniel Deronda.
If the hysteric is able to form a vocabulary for her discomfort, hence feminist
resistance, then the healing process can begin. Through writing, the female hysteric is
able to expel her pent up emotion, desire, and intellectual excess in order to create a
71


language particular to the female experience.2 Eliot herself held an advantage over her
hysterical characters: she possessed this outlet for intellectual release in the form of
writing and perhaps avoided experiencing a destructive form of hysteria. Rather, Eliot
embodied her emotional state and psychosomatic disruptions onto a textual body of
writing. The woman behind Gwendolen, Mirah, Lydia, and the Alcharisi was able to
work through issues particular to the female experience and avoid lapsing into literal
hysterical paroxysms. Through Daniel Deronda, Eliot approaches the transformation of
the female body into a text, which perhaps prepared the ground for French feminists to
embrace a hysterical form of writing and reclaim the female body by inscribing it onto a
text as well. Writing, as a coping mechanism for woman under patriarchal dominance,
allows her to silently criticize and protest the pervasive social milieu that threaten
emotional stability and thwart ambition. Writing allows female authors to embrace their
desire for feminist protest and create a vocabulary for discomfort and depression caused
by patriarchal traditions. In fact, Eliot concealed her power as a woman in nineteenth-
century England by creating a masculine persona for herself. Her nom de plume perhaps
assured that her writing would not be ignored and trivialized by male-dominated literary
criticism. Eliots last novel and her hysterical women in it reveal a female author
2 from Part IV, The Rape of the Lock: An Anti Heroi-Comical Poem, Alexander Pope
http://poetry.eserver.org/rape-of-the-lock.html:
Who rule the Sex to Fifty from Fifteen,
Parent of Vapors and of Female Wit,
Who give th' Hysteric or Poetic Fit,
On various Tempers act by various ways,
Make some take Physick, others scribble Plays (Pope 4.61-5).
72


ambivalent about her feminine identity, but able to use her writing as a means to
circumvent and escape patriarchal control over her clandestinely female-authored text.
The regenerative possibility for the hysteric comes from the creation of a
vocabularybodily, facial, verbal, written, performedthat enables her to articulate
sensation that would otherwise remain in the unconscious realm of the imagination. By
giving the hysterics unwilling brain a voice with which she can speak what her
tongue dares not fashion words (Shelley 185) into, she can expel her sensations of
depression, fear, and madness through the hysterical performance. This voice is not
necessarily verbal, rational discourse; rather, it is the voice of sensation, emotion, and
perhaps even outrage. Christine Sutphin points out, paradoxically claiming helplessness
and silence, Eliot nevertheless managed in her novels to give the aspiring, frustrated,
morally active heroine a voice (Sutphin 361). Therefore, in order to manage the
hysterical condition, woman can write in order to gain, paradoxically, a silent voice.
The physical embodiment of emotions can be transformed instead into a text as a
textual embodiment of excess emotion. The excessively emotional, fluid body of the
female hysteric can be metaphorically translated into a text through which these excesses
and once-dormant emotional and intellectual energies can be expressed. The body as a
metaphorical text, where experience can be read, surfaces with the influx of hysteria. In
fact, Janet Beizer concisely evokes this notion of the gendered body/text relationship that
female hysteria has the potential to create: In the hysterics hyperfemale, hyperexcessive
body, sex and text are joined (Beizer 22). This notion of the hyper-feminine,
hyperexcessive body has the potential to gain agency, not necessarily as a means to
73


entirely subvert patriarchal authority, but in order to reclaim the female body and through
such reclamation create a language particular to the female experience.
However, this process of reclaiming the female body through a hysterical act of
writing is perhaps unavoidably subversive to the patriarchal structure. Helene Cixous
posits:
If woman has always functioned within the discourse of man, a signifier
that has always referred back to the opposite signifier which annihilates its
specific energy and diminishes or stifles its very different sounds, it is
time for her to dislocate this within, to explode it, turn it around, and
seize it; to make it hers, containing it, taking it in her own mouth, biting
that tongue with her very own teeth to invent for herself a language to get
inside of.
(Cixous 885)
Cixouss language emits a sense of violence associated with recovering the female body
and voice through the practice of ecriture feminine. This writing is arguably hysterical,
and subversive, in that its very different sounds threaten to dislocate and explode
traditional concepts of the rationality and logic of the discourse of man. Furthermore,
the biting [of] that tongue is a radical and vicious way to destroy patriarchal systems of
discourse. The evocation of the female body appears in Cixouss writing as sensual and
desirous for a language of her own to get inside of, which resists the notion of the
female body as penetrable. Here, woman is no longer receptive and conquerable by male
dominance, but rather, immune from it, contained by her own will, and thus liberated.
The containment of womens voices and bodies is no longer a repressive state if they are
74


the inventors of their own language. This language speaks through a metaphor-heavy text
that potentially embodies the female experience, exploding and displacing the rational,
straightforward, male-centered modes of discourse.
Through writing, women can acknowledge, treat, and potentially heal their
wounds caused by a reprehensible father. Often, scars remain, but by embodying her
emotions through the act of writing, the female hysteric is able to create a vocabulary for
her pain and depression. By embodying the emotions in a text rather than the surface of
the body only, Dani Cavallaro remarks how bodies can be read insofar as our
experiences are invariably written on the body. Concurrently, eminently physical and
erotic drives come into play in both the reading and the writing of texts (Cavallaro 115).
The fear-ridden unconscious desire to rebel and claim a feminine voice is achieved
through hysteria insomuch as this condition forces the emergence of psychosomatic
paroxysms and transcribes them onto a textual body. Athena Vrettos explains how
figurations in textual narratives of the hysterical woman address the process by which
the nervous body could be imaginatively refigured (Vrettos 559). Thus, women authors
have the ability to refigure, reclaim, and contain for themselves the female experience
through the process of writing on hysteria, an endeavor that creates a vocabulary for
discomfort and feminist protest that men, too, might be able to appreciate.
75


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Additional References for Further Reading
Adam, Ian. The Winters Tale and Its Displacements: The Hermione Episode in Daniel
Deronda. Newsletter of the Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada,
Vol. 9.1 (1983): 8-13.
Carroll, Alicia. Arabian Nights: Make-Believe, Exoticism, and Desire in Daniel
Deronda. The Journal of English and Germanic Philology. Vol. 98.2 (1999):
219-238.
DeMaria, Joanne Long. The Wondrous Marriages of Daniel Deronda: Gender, Work,
and Love. Studies in the Novel. Vol. 22.4 (1990): 403-417.
Dunagan Osborne, Katherine. Inherited Emotions: George Eliot and the Politics of
Heirlooms. Nineteenth-Century Literature. Vol. 64.4 (2010): 465-493
During, Simon. The Strange Case of Monomania: Patriarchy in Literature, Murder in
Middlemarch, Drowning in Daniel Deronda. Representations. Vol. 23 (1988):
86-104.
Fitzhugh, Peggy Johnstone. The Transformation of Rage: Mourning and Creativity in
George Eliots Fiction. New York: New York University Press, 1994.
Kearney, John p. Time and Beauty in Daniel Deronda: Was She Beautiful not
Beautiful?. Nineteenth-Century Fiction. Vol. 26.3 (1971): 286-306.
Penner, Louise. Unmapped Country: Uncovering Hidden Wounds in Daniel Deronda.
Victorian Literature and Culture Vol. 30.1 (2002): 77-97.
Reimer, Margaret Loewen. The Spoiled Child: What Happened to Gwendolen Harleth?
Cambridge Quarterly Vol. 36.1 (2007): 33-50.
Wilt, Judith. He Would Come Back: The Fathers of Daughters in Daniel Deronda.
Nineteenth-Century Literature Vol. 42.3 (1987): 313-38.
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