Odd Complaints and Doubtful Conditions: Norms of Hypochondria in Jane Austen and Catherine Belling

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 11 (2):193-200 (2014)

Jamie Nelson
Michigan State University
In her final fragmentary novel Sanditon, Jane Austen develops a theme that pervades her work from her juvenilia onward: illness, and in particular, illness imagined, invented, or self-inflicted. While the “invention of odd complaints” is characteristically a token of folly or weakness throughout her writing, in this last work imagined illness is also both a symbol and a cause of how selves and societies degenerate. In the shifting world of Sanditon, hypochondria is the lubricant for a society bent on turning health into a commodity. As a result, people’s rationality and their moral character come under attack. Catherine Belling’s recent subtle study, A Condition of Doubt: The Meanings of Hypochondria, unveils hypochondria’s discursive and cultural character. Running sharply against the tenor of Austen’s treatment, however, she argues in defense of the rationality of hypochondriacs; the notion that the condition may involve morally significant defects is not entertained; any connection to the commercialization of health care is muted. Here, I contrast Austen’s morally and epistemically negative rendering of her hypochondriacal characters in Sanditon with Belling’s efforts to create a sympathetic understanding of people with hypochondria. I will argue that, despite time gaps and genre differences, joint consideration of these texts can help bioethicists better appreciate how medicine can intensify, pathologize, and exploit anxieties about illness and death, thus adding to the challenges of living well in the face of mortality and morbidity
Keywords Hypochondria  Postmodernism  Jane Austen  Catherine Belling  Rationality
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DOI 10.1007/s11673-014-9522-7
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References found in this work BETA

Sense and Sensibility.Jane Austen - 1963 - Oxford University Press USA.
Emma.Jane Austen - 1963 - Oxford University Press USA.
Pride and Prejudice.Jane Austen - 1813 - Oxford University Press USA.
Mansfield Park.Jane Austen - 1963 - Oxford University Press USA.

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Bioethics and Literature: An Exciting Overlap.Grant Gillett & Lynne Bowyer - 2014 - Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 11 (2):135-136.

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