Doctor of Philosophy, University of Northumbria at Newcastle, May (2010)
This interdisciplinary thesis explores the connection between mental health and lifestyle in the eighteenth century. The thesis draws upon scholarly and medical writings on melancholy, from Robert Burton‘s Anatomy of Melancholy (1622) onwards, and consider these works alongside eighteenth-century literary representations and biographical testimonies from those suffering from melancholy. The thesis provides a new perspective and understanding of the terms in which depression and other associated nervous illnesses were medicalised in the eighteenth century. I argue against recent scholarly work which regards melancholy as a label interchangeable with nervous illnesses such as vapours, spleen and hysteria. I argue that in the eighteenth century melancholy was a clearly identified medical condition in its own right and that it was a depressive illness which can be closely related to today‘s depression.
The thesis argues that there is a direct link between idleness and the melancholy state of mind and that a depressed state of mind was often the result of an idle lifestyle. Melancholy is also considered in relation to gender and the idle lifestyle that many females were forced to adopt. It then focuses upon three prominent literary figures: Samuel Johnson, William Shenstone and William Cowper, all of whom suffered from depression.