Melancholy and the idle lifestyle in the eighteenth century

Buie, Diane (2010) Melancholy and the idle lifestyle in the eighteenth century. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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This interdisciplinary thesis explores the connection between mental health and lifestyle in the eighteenth century. The thesis draws upon scholarly and medical writings on melancholy, from Robert Burton‘s Anatomy of Melancholy (1622) onwards, and consider these works alongside eighteenth-century literary representations and biographical testimonies from those suffering from melancholy. The thesis provides a new perspective and understanding of the terms in which depression and other associated nervous illnesses were medicalised in the eighteenth century. I argue against recent scholarly work which regards melancholy as a label interchangeable with nervous illnesses such as vapours, spleen and hysteria. I argue that in the eighteenth century melancholy was a clearly identified medical condition in its own right and that it was a depressive illness which can be closely related to today‘s depression. The thesis argues that there is a direct link between idleness and the melancholy state of mind and that a depressed state of mind was often the result of an idle lifestyle. Melancholy is also considered in relation to gender and the idle lifestyle that many females were forced to adopt. It then focuses upon three prominent literary figures: Samuel Johnson, William Shenstone and William Cowper, all of whom suffered from depression. The thesis considers Johnson‘s preoccupation with idleness as a symptom of his melancholy, a notion that has received little critical attention. Shenstone‘s experience is used to illustrate the depressing effect that a retired lifestyle could have on the individual. I argue that his melancholy was largely caused by the conflict created between his decision to live the idle lifestyle of a country gentleman and his desire to remain amongst society. Finally I re-evaluate the account of the mental turmoil expressed by Cowper in his spiritual autobiography Adelphi and provide evidence that suggests Cowper may have feigned the symptoms of religious melancholy in an attempt to resist the pressures placed upon him to follow a profession. Ultimately the thesis reveals that, in the eighteenth century, idleness was regarded as a major cause of, and symptom of, melancholy. Idleness was also seen as an obstruction to one of the most widely prescribed methods of cure for melancholy: occupation.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: V100 History by period
V300 History by topic
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Social Sciences
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
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Depositing User: EPrint Services
Date Deposited: 23 Dec 2010 14:55
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2023 13:33

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