Depression and Gender: The Expression and Experience of Melancholy in the Eighteenth Century

Pauline Harrison

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract

This thesis investigates the life and work of six eighteenth-century writers, two male and four female. It explores their experience of depression through their letters and other autobiographical material, and examines the ways in which they represent melancholy in their poetry and prose. The subject of Chapter Two is Thomas Gray, whose real life persona as the lonely intellectual is also identifiable in his poetry. The Scottish poet Robert Fergusson is studied in Chapter Three. Fergusson’s lively and vigorous mind was shattered in the months leading up to his death, during which time some of his writing became darkly nihilistic. Chapter Four looks at Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, a lifelong depressive who often wrote about her feelings of despair in her poetry. Chapter Five explores Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. She was a courageous and controversial figure, but despite her resilience, on occasion in her letters she reveals her vulnerability and susceptibility to low spirits, a mood which is sometimes expressed in her creative writing. Sarah Scott, whose life and work have not yet been considered in relation to the subject of melancholy, is examined in Chapter Six. Her novel includes several low-spirited and depressed female characters who are continually seeking asylum from a hostile world. Chapter Seven analyses Charlotte Smith, a mother of twelve children whose unhappy marriage ended in separation. Smith wrote extensively about her depression in her letters, prefaces, poetry and novels. This study shows that the women in particular use their writing on melancholy and depression to express their discontent with the confined way in which they are often expected to live out their lives.
Original languageEnglish
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Ingram, Allan, Supervisor
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 6 Oct 2011

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