Next Article in Journal
“Divided by a Common Language”: The Use of Verbatim in Carol Ann Duffy and Rufus Norris’ My Country; A Work in Progress
Next Article in Special Issue
Spectral Sterility in Bucknill and Tuke’s A Manual of Psychological Medicine and Bulwer Lytton’s A Strange Story
Previous Article in Journal
Depictions of American Indians in George Armstrong Custer’s My Life on the Plains
Previous Article in Special Issue
Body Fluids and Fluid Bodies: Trans-Corporeal Connections in Contemporary German Narratives of Illness
Open AccessArticle

“Our Self-Undoing”: Christina Rossetti’s Literary and Somatic Expressions of Graves’ Disease

by Mary Arseneau 1,* and Emery Terrell 2,*
1
Department of English, Hamelin Hall, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON K1N 6N5, Canada
2
Faculty of Medicine, Roger Guindon Hall, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON K1H 8M5, Canada
*
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Humanities 2019, 8(1), 57; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8010057
Received: 17 February 2019 / Revised: 17 March 2019 / Accepted: 18 March 2019 / Published: 21 March 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Medical Narratives of Ill Health)
Victorian poet Christina Rossetti (1830–1894) was frequently troubled by poor health, and her mid-life episode of life-threatening illness (1870–1872) when she suffered from Graves’ disease provides an illuminating case study of the ways that illness can be reflected in poetry and prose. Rossetti, her family, and her doctors understood Graves’ disease as a heart condition; however, Rossetti’s writing reflects a different paradigm, presenting themes of self-attack and a divided self that uncannily parallel the modern understanding of Graves’ disease as autoimmune in nature. Interestingly, these creative representations reflect an understanding of this disease process that Rossetti family documents and the history of Victorian medicine demonstrate Rossetti could not have been aware of. When the crisis had passed, Rossetti’s writing began to include new rhetoric and imagery of self-acceptance and of suffering as a means of spiritual improvement. This essay explores the parallels between literary and somatic metaphors: Rossetti’s body and art are often simultaneously “saying” the same thing, the physical symptoms expressing somatically the same dynamic that is expressed in metaphor and narrative in Rossetti’s creative writing. Such a well-documented case history raises questions about how writing may be shaped by paradigms of illness that are not accessible to the conscious mind. View Full-Text
Keywords: Christina Rossetti; poetry; literature and medicine; history of medicine; 19th century; autoimmune disease; Graves’ disease; heart; illness narrative; medical humanities Christina Rossetti; poetry; literature and medicine; history of medicine; 19th century; autoimmune disease; Graves’ disease; heart; illness narrative; medical humanities
Show Figures

Figure 1

MDPI and ACS Style

Arseneau, M.; Terrell, E. “Our Self-Undoing”: Christina Rossetti’s Literary and Somatic Expressions of Graves’ Disease. Humanities 2019, 8, 57.

Show more citation formats Show less citations formats
Note that from the first issue of 2016, MDPI journals use article numbers instead of page numbers. See further details here.

Article Access Map by Country/Region

1
Back to TopTop