The XIXth Century Depiction of Mental Illness

Having been originally breathed into a few forms or

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having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning of endless forms most beautiful and wonderful have been, and are being evolved” (215). Darwin gives a religious prevalence to the evolution of man and higher animals through this allusion to Genesis. He replaces any notion of Romanticism in Mother Nature with a newly destructive ideal, and labels mental illness a result of poor breeding that propagates mental illness. 14 Conveniently, Darwin chooses to ignore that individuals are capable of conceiving much more ennobled beings such as angels, or even God.
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Following Darwin’s demystification, mental illness no longer stemmed from a mere ambivalence towards Mother Nature; mental illness followed from the internal Nature of man himself. Post-Darwin, a wide range of nervous disorders come to the fore, implying a new level of control in man’s understanding of mental maladies from neurosis to hysteria to psychosis. For example, in The Use and Abuse of History , Friedrich Nietzsche presses that man is susceptible to a particular type of neuroticism because of deterministic historical narratives 15 , which imply that man’s role as a free agent is negligible: “I am trying to represent something of which the age is rightly proud – its historical culture – as a fault and a defect in our time, believing as I do that we are all suffering from a malignant historical fever” (Nietzsche 4). In addition, Nietzsche depicts a different nervous symptom associated with the parricide and matricide necessary for life, parents die so that their children can live: “it requires great strength to be able to live and forget how far life and injustice are one” (21). Fyodor Dostoevsky serves as another example of post-Darwinism, in The Brother’s Karamzov, in which he depicts a wide range of nervous ailments 16 . In opposition to Darwin’s belief in the sick as just sick, Dostoevsky portrays a wide range of mental maladies from Ivan Karamazov’s frenzy to crippled Lise’s hysterical paralysis: 15 Reference to Hegel 16 Almost all of the mentally ill in The Brothers Karamazov suffer from a sickness associated with an imbalance in internal Nature.
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“Ivan Karamazov, much to Smerdyakov’s surprise, suddenly laughed and walked quickly through the gate, still laughing. Anyone seeing his face would certainly have concluded that he was not laughing at all out of merriment. And for the life of him he could not have explained what was happening to him at that moment. He moved and walked as if in spasms” (Dostoevsky 274). Ivan Karamazov’s inner suppression of the maternal image and the conscious defense mechanism of intellectualism reveal themselves through his unconscious. This unconscious takes control, and is visible in the manner in which he walks away from Smerdyakov “as if in spasms” (274). Dostoevsky introduces the biologized notion of frenzy – Ivan is in a state of neurosis in which the agent disassociates from himself and
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