The XIXth Century Depiction of Mental Illness

Both baudelaire and degas depiction of the city

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Both Baudelaire and Degas’ depiction of the city denizen turn to intoxication to “suppress the malicious demons of [neurosis and unacceptable behavior] that enter [industrialized man]” (127). Far from a Natural state, Baudelaire is caged in city life; the reality of responsibility and suffering associated with the “errand boy” and the “infamous concubine” strike him like the “blow of a pickaxe” (121). In “The Wicked Maker of Window Glass” Baudelaire addresses another ailment of the industrialized man; Baudelaire contests with the inescapable urge to action owing to an “energy rising out of boredom, because of idleness” (127). The urge to express these inner “malicious demons” leaves Baudelaire with a choice if he hopes to repress them, intoxication or mental illness. In Baudelaire’s case, the end result is both. Typical of the Byronic hero, Baudelaire remains stuck in an ambivalent state, in between “the goddess of dreams” and the reality of “a narrow world” (121). Stultifying the punitive effect of one's failure and regrets, Baudelaire portrays the ideal state of Nature as an imagined state with “an eternity of pleasure!” where time and mortality are absent, and the hero enjoys “perfected sensibility” (121). In addition, Baudelaire turns to the feminine mystique to portray the emotional experience of the ideal: “on the bed is lying the Idol, the goddess of dreams” (121). Baudelaire is "devoted" to this Goddess of Pleasure and laudanum, and rejects "the concubine and alimony"; he mystifies "the Savage beauty within himself" and demystifies the real, live, flesh-and-bones woman (121). Baudelaire’s emotional imbalance constantly leads to the fear of demise in death 11 , the impotence of his will, and the atrophy of his mental state. On the other hand, even as 11 Baudelaire’s fear of death is noticeable in constant references to “eternity” and time; the latter he calls “She-as,” perhaps time is the antithesis to his adored “goddess of dreams” (123).
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Baudelaire is thwarted by the domination of the real, he never ceases in his effort to brand the peculiar beautiful 12 , apparent in the juxtaposition between the real and the eroticized ideal of the feminine mystique, “infamous concubine” and the “goddess of dreams” respectively. Turning sharply towards a more scientific understanding of mental illness, Charles Darwin attempts to wean a public nursed on the Romantic ideals Mother Nature. In On the Origin of Species , not only does Darwin look at mental illness as a biological condition, but also he moves to redefine a Romanticized Mother Nature as an amoral destroyer: “Climate plays an important part in determining the average numbers of a species, and periodical seasons of extreme cold or drought, I believe to be the most effective of all checks. I estimated that the winter of 1854-55 destroyed four-fifths of the birds in my own grounds; and this is a tremendous destruction, when we remember that ten percent is an extraordinarily severe mortality from epidemics with man. The action of climate seems at first to be quite independent in the
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