The Daily Dose: Brain Trauma and Self Control in Victorian Fiction

Welcome to Literary Medicine’s Daily Dose (Companion to the Fiction Reboot).

It has been a very busy summer, full of book projects, edited collection chapters and revised articles for publication. Now that the flurry of activity is over (and the semester is looming), I turn my attention back to an ongoing project–the curing of “moral disability.”

Accepted as part of my MLA Presidential Panel, this paper is a taste of things to come. Building on my interests in Romantic and Victorian literature, my next book project will explore concepts of mental duality and brain trauma in the contentious advent of surgical cures


Panel title: Disability Discourses: Bodily Selves and the Embodiment of Deviance

Paper title: Curing “Moral Disability”: Brain Trauma and Self-Control in Victorian Fiction


In 1844, Arthur L. Wigan (noted brain surgeon) published Duality of the Mind. In the text, he collects thirty years of brain trauma case studies in order to explore the concept of double volitions—something which, today, we might include under the corpus of personality disorder. Interest in brain trauma continued throughout the Victorian period, and case studies appeared in widely circulated journals like the Lancet, concurrently with burgeoning theories about psychological disturbance and “moral insanity.” These concepts of trauma, morality and insanity intersect in the period’s methods of “cure”—from trephining to lobotomy. While not widely practiced until the early twentieth century, attempts at surgical “cures” aroused curiosity and speculation, while the permeable boundaries of literary and medical discourse created space to explore not only the “moral disability” but also the physical (and often traumatic) cure. Looking primarily at the work of Charles Dickens, but also at novels by Wilkie Collins and Charlotte Yonge, this paper provides a unique perspective on representations of trauma and disability as a means of moral cure in the nineteenth century.

For the abstracts of other papers on this panel, please visit my research page! The titles appear below:

Curing “Moral Disability”: Brain Trauma and Self-Control in Victorian Fiction
Brandy L. Schillace, Assistant Professor, English Department, Winona State University

Disability and Deviance:  Dario Argento’s Phenomena and the Maintenance of Abledness as Critical Framework in Film Studies
Jamie McDaniel, PhD, Assistant Professor, English Department, Pittsburg State University

Drawing Disability in Japanese Manga: Visual Politics, Cultural Attitudes, and Wheelchair Basketball in Inoue Takahiko’s REAL
Andrea Wood, PhD., Assistant Professor, English Department, Winona State University

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