In order to absorb the real flavour of the Victorian novelists, some of which I have already mentioned, it is helpful if one can plug into the Victorian Consciousness, in short, see the world as they saw it.
There were many things that pre-occupied the Victorians such as Spiritualism, Telepathic Communication, Out of the Body Experiences, the Transfer of Magnetic Vibrations from one person to another, Mesmerism, and many many more. Why?
The answer is fairly straightforward. They lived in a world, the certainties of which were being eroded. For example, Lyell's investigations in Geology were casting doubt on the age of the earth that Archbishop Usher had calculated as around 6,000,years old, creation having taken place around 4004 BC. German Biblical scholars were busy at work examining Biblical Documents and casting doubt on the authenticity of the Bible. Medical research seemed to suggest that man was merely a material Being without a soul. Darwin was coming on board, which was a denial of direct creation by God
What then was the consequence of this, namely that a number of intellectuals and writers could not let go of the view that man was more than flesh and bones, and that at death human existence was over. So they started to look at the latent powers, which they believed humans possessed.
Thus underpinning the Victorian novels which I shall comment on from time to time, is the FIRM BELIEF that humans had what we now call paranormal powers.
Today I want to look at PHRENOLOGY. We shall encounter this when I comment, in future posts on JANE EYRE.
Phrenology was concerned with the study of the structure of the skull. In short the bumps on the head were alleged to reveal a person's character and mental capacity. In England when deciding whether a criminal was reformable by a dose of prison or was beyond redemption and should be shipped off to Australia, an 'expert' in Phrenology was called in. After passing his hands over the prisoner's skull, the report was made, and the fate of the prisoner was decided on that basis. Also in England the sort of education one should receive was also based on this sort of diagnosis.
The Viennese physician Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828) claimed there were a number of "organs" on the surface of the brain which affect the contour of the skull. These even included including a "murder organ". These peculiar skull contours were supposedly present in murderers.
The notion caught on and Kaspar Spurzheim (1776 - 1832 ) along with George Coombe (1788 - 1858), who founded the Edinburgh Phrenological Society, spread the word so successfully that it caught on in the United States. Thomas Foster called the work of Gall and Spurzheim "phrenology" (phrenos is Greek for mind) and the name stuck.
Ironically, phrenology was correct in suggesting that the the human brain is the seat of character, emotions, perception, intellect, and so on. It was wrong, however in proposing that these mental characteristics manifested themselves in the contours of the skull. In the time of Gall, Spurzheim and Coombe, it was only possible to study the brains of the dead. This therefore led to the false notion concerning the contours of the skull.
Today few people take phrenology seriously. Nevertheless, throughout the 19th century both in the USA and in England it had an immense following. One can gauge its popularity because Combe's, The Constitution of Man sold more than 300,000 copies between 1828 and 1868.
When we look at JANE EYRE we shall see the influence it had on Charlotte Bronte.
Hope this was enjoyable. Any comments?
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