The Lovemad Woman in Nineteenth Century Literature

The Lovemad Woman in Nineteenth Century Literature

Length: 1026 words (2.9 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
The Lovemad Woman in Nineteenth Century Literature

The lovemad woman was a very important part of nineteenth-century literature. The lovemad woman, originally characterized as a female who becomes insane due to the departure of her lover, was an important character in literature. From Antigone to Ophelia to Jane Eyre, the lovemad woman is seen throughout literature in various contexts. The definition of such a woman changed as the definition of what is it to be a woman in general changed throughout history.

Love madness was seen both in the literature of the nineteenth century and in reality. At the time, the definition of insanity and how it should be treated was going under dramatic changes. Love madness was seen as a primarily female disease. Insanity in general was seen to occur more often in females due to their natural weakness. Being female was almost a form of insanity because of what is seen as their biological inferiority. Living in a male-dominated society, women were forced to be weak, to be sickly. Women were looked at as unnatural if they were too forceful in their actions and emotions. They were also looked down upon if they expressed their sexuality too blatantly. Love madness itself is linked with "sexual knowledge and innocence" (Small 83). A woman was in danger of becoming mad if she had too much sexual knowledge: "A young lady was only worth as much as her chastity and appearance of complete innocence . . . . Once lead astray, she was the fallen woman, and nothing could reconcile her until she died" (Lee).

Nineteenth-century British society was able to brainwash females into ignoring their sexuality through tales of Medusa-like creatures (Gilbert 53). Young women would hear various tales of women who had given into their carnal desires and then as punishment became virtual monsters. An example of this can be seen in Bertha Mason, who becomes a monster due to her overpowering sexual nature. Elaine Showalter addresses these legends in her book, A Literature of Their Own, by saying "the legends themselves express a cultural attitude toward female passion as a potentially dangerous force that must be punished and confined" (Showalter 119).

These monsters of women are experiencing what became to be known as moral insanity. J.C. Prichard defined moral insanity as "a morbid perversion of the natural feelings, affections, inclinations, temper, habits, and moral dispositions without any notable lesion of the intellect" ( Small 163).

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"The Lovemad Woman in Nineteenth Century Literature." 20 Feb 2020

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Nineteenth Century Literature Heroines and Conformity Essay

- Nineteenth Century Literature Heroines and Conformity By definition, a heroine is a woman who would typically encompass the qualities of nobility, courage, independence and strength. Nineteenth century English women would have struggled to accomplish any of these particular acts of heroism within their social environment as ultimately, their roles within civilisation saw them becoming a good wives and mothers and before that, obliging and caring daughters. Within this ubiquitous discourse of separate spheres, Kathryn Gleadle suggests that women were ‘encouraged to see themselves as ‘relative creatures', whose path in life was to nurture the family and to provide unstinting support for the h...   [tags: Literature 19th Century]

Free Essays
1654 words (4.7 pages)

Women Roles During 19th Century American Literatures Essay example

- Women roles have changed drastically in the last 50 to 80 years, women no longer have to completely conform to society’s gender roles and now enjoy the idea of being individuals. Along with the evolution of women roles in society, women presence and acceptance have drastically grown in modern literature. In early literature it was common to see women roles as simply caretakers, wives or as background; women roles and ideas were nearly non-existent and was rather seen than heard. The belief that women were more involved in the raising of children and taking care of the household was a great theme in many early literatures; women did not get much credit for being apart of the frontier and exp...   [tags: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Woman]

Research Papers
1395 words (4 pages)

The Spanish And Italian Literatures Of The 19th Century Essay

- My research explores political essay in the Spanish and Italian literatures of the second half of the nineteenth century. In particular, I analyze the perception of a “national/supranational conscience” to prove how European liberal thinkers in nineteenth century attempt to build and establish a supranational entity. As “supranational” I intend a shift in international politics - constituted by the agreement among sovereign states - to create common structures of power and identity (Neyer 2012)....   [tags: Europe, European Union, 19th century, Spain]

Research Papers
1002 words (2.9 pages)

Essay on Jane Eyre

- Jane Eyre and the Lovemad Woman I was experiencing an ordeal: a hand of fiery iron grasped my vitals. Terrible moment: full of struggle blackness, burning. No human being that ever lived could wish to be loved better then I was loved; and him who thus loved me I absolutely worshipped: and I must renounce love and idol. (311; ch. 27) Jane Eyre’s inner struggle over leaving an already married Rochester is the epitome of the new "lovemad" woman in nineteenth-century literature. Jane Eyre is the story of a lovemad woman who has two parts to her personality (herself and Bertha Mason) to accommodate this madness....   [tags: Jane Eyre Literature]

Research Papers
3143 words (9 pages)

American Literature of the Twentieth Century Essay

- The country as it was in the early part of the twentieth century was shaped toward regenerating and recovering from World War I, the Great Depression, and a lot of other socially-crippling disruptions that were forever altering the United States in a lot of different ways. Some of the changes were good, and others were not so good. The spirit of loyalty and patriotism were alive and thriving in the air and in everyone's hearts, and the literature of that time greatly reflects the influence that this surge of patriotism brought upon the American peoples....   [tags: 20th century twentieth literature]

Research Papers
1371 words (3.9 pages)

The Great Piece Of Literature Of The Ninetieth Century Essay

- The great piece of literature of the ninetieth century, The Conclusion is more than just a love story between a young man and a young woman. Within its words lie lessons of maturing and growing up as a woman which are pretty relevant to today surprisingly. This story is written by, Rabindranath Tagore, which was an early leader in the movement for India’s national liberation he will remain in the hearts of many as an inspiration. The story has many noticeable things going on such as the influence of the British educational system in India; differences in social positions; the relationships between the village and city....   [tags: Girl, Female, Woman, Boy]

Research Papers
1468 words (4.2 pages)

Essay on Christianity and 18th Century British Literature

- Christianity and 18th Century British Literature " matter what kind of pleasure may await his senses, unless it serves exclusively the glory of God, he needs to cut it off of him, giving it up out of his love towards Jesus Christ..."1 I. Taking its time to establish a radically theological point of view, this essay aims to apply it to the body of novel literature in 18th century England, probing and inquiring it whether it is in support of Christianity as laid down in the New Testament or not....   [tags: 18th Century British Literature]

Free Essays
3342 words (9.5 pages)

Woman in the Nineteenth Century, by Margaret Fuller Essay

- Woman in the Nineteenth Century, by Margaret Fuller In her essay, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, Margaret Fuller discusses the state of marriage in America during the 1800‘s. She is a victim of her own knowledge, and is literally considered ugly because of her wisdom. She feels that if certain stereotypes can be broken down, women can have the respect of men intellectually, physically, and emotionally. She explains why some of the inequalities exist in marriages around her. Fuller feels that once women are accepted as equals, men and women will be able achieve a true love not yet known to the people of the world....   [tags: Woman in the Nineteenth Century Margaret Fuller]

Research Papers
1136 words (3.2 pages)

The Awakening: Sexuality in Nineteenth Century Literature Essay

- Pleasure's a sin, and sometimes sin's a pleasure. George Gordon Noel Byron (The Daily Muse) Everyday the North American media sends millions of sexually provocative images through the airwaves and onto television screens. According to a recent study, an overwhelming 56% of all television programs contain sexual content (Vieth, 2). Our society has become so immune to the representation of sex that, for the most part, it goes unnoticed. Although concerns regarding sexuality still remain, society's tolerance level has changed dramatically over time....   [tags: American Literature]

Research Papers
1169 words (3.3 pages)

Essay on The Female Martyr of Nineteenth Century Literature

- The Female Martyr of Nineteenth Century Literature The literature of the nineteenth century is abundant with stories about children dying, partially because it was common for people to die young. One of the most popular forms of the dying child in literature is the martyr, who is almost always female. During the nineteenth century, white men held virtually all of the power in American society. The only way female characters could obtain power was through transcendence in death, but white males already had power and thus had nothing to gain by dying....   [tags: Literature Literary]

Free Essays
3090 words (8.8 pages)

Related Searches

This moral insanity occurred often in women and lower class people because they were believed to be weak-willed and this insanity had to be a choice of will (Small 164). This "moral madness" can be a subsidierary of lovemadness. The woman is driven to this moral insanity after she commits acts of love, though carnal love. Women who were morally mad were considered bestial and sometimes more specifically snakelike, which could be seen as a reference to Adam and Eve (Shuttleworth 13). Eve is the woman in the bible who in the Genesis brought about the fall of paradise through her inability to deny herself earthly pleasure. By making sexual, passionate women seem snakelike and perverted in a monstrous way, they are just drawing back attention to Eve and her mistake. It is once again enforcing the fact that women are weak because they are weak-willed, dating all the way back to the first woman. This is just another example of imagery that makes the woman seem as a weak willed person, more prone to insanity.

Hysteria also was seen at the time as a female disease caused by the female reproductive organs (Gilbert 53). Females who showed too much emotion (i.e. anger, sexual feelings) were considered hysterical and had to be treated. Females were seen as more prone to this indulgence of emotion because of their organs. Treatment usually meant confinement, which of course is ironic because the women’s insanity can almost be seen as being caused due to already being confined in a patriarchal society (Gilbert 54).

The history of the lovemad woman can be accurately seen through the literature of the time. In early renditions of her, the woman was simply a hysteric who could not deal with the desertion of her lover. An early example of this is seen in Hamlet. Ophelia becomes the lovemad woman; when she is rejected by Hamlet she ultimately goes mad and drowns herself. From there the lovemad woman can be seen in the context of political insurrections. There are numerous stories of women going mad after their lovers leave them in order to fight in the revolutions that occurred in Europe in the nineteenth century. Finally the "new" lovemad woman is seen in authors such as Charlotte Bronte. This lovemad woman is used as an object to lash out against the oppression of the society in which she lived. Authors used this madness as a form of rebellion since women were not able to rebel in any other ways. Mary Wollenstonecraft made lovemadness out to be the product of a male dominated society in her work, Maria. (Small 31). She is just one example of a feminist author who blamed the lovemadness on confinement in society. Though some critics believe that using this type of madness is dehabilitating to women because it just once again stresses the weakness of femininity, this is inaccurate. The new lovemad woman is no longer just a sick woman rejected by her lover. The new lovemad woman is a figure of passion who is confined without the ability to escape, she represents all of womanhood’s inability to be able to speak for themselves during this time period. Woman are imprisoned in their homes, in their social roles, and this madwoman is an attempt to break out of this confinement through insanity. (Small 26).

Works Cited

Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.
Lee, Elizabeth. "Victorian Theories of Sex and Sexuality." The Victorian Web. 1997. 20 March 2003.
Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1976.
Small, Helen. Love’s Madness: Medicine, the Novel, and Female Insanity. New York: Oxford UP, 1996.
Return to