Physiology and the Literary Imagination: Romantic to Modern

John Gordon

Details: 304 pages    6 x 9
Cloth: $59.95   ISBN 13: 978-0-8130-2586-5   
Pubdate: 3/1/2003
Review(s): 2 available

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Overview

"This wonderful book is extremely detailed, wide-ranging, dense with insight, constantly inventive--in short, brilliant."--Roy Gottfried, Vanderbilt University

"A majestic synthesis of scholarship and criticism, illuminating the 'fictive physiologies' of [these] writers with graceful erudition and elegant vigor. . . . His close readings of the many different texts never fail to surprise and to inform."--Robert H. Bell, Williams College

John Gordon traces the ways that changing medical developments shaped the imagination of seven representative authors ranging across two centuries--William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, Gerard Manley Hopkins, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Dylan Thomas, and Sylvia Plath--and how received notions of medical fact play out in their writings, whether in the behavior of their characters or the workings of their own lyric sensibilities. No other work takes such a long view of medicine and at the same time examines the works of so many different authors with so small and detailed a lens.

Moreover, none of these authors has ever received so searching a review of the physiological premises at work in their writings. Most author-focused studies have been essentially biographical considerations of an authors' medical history, real or imagined. This book concentrates on the author's writings. Further distinguishing Gordon's achievement is his all-encompassing synthesis of research and analysis. This account of "what was being written about the body and what was being made of what was being written" combines meticulous, lucid expositions of medical research (especially ways of understanding the body and the mind) with elaborate, striking interpretations of literary texts.

Gordon's work contributes new and pertinent ideas to studies of every author in its purview, throwing countless details and major concerns into sharp relief. It greatly extends the limited medical material on Joyce, supplies scholars of Eliot, Thomas, Hopkins, and Plath with interpretations very different from the physical and emotional readings normally provided for those poets, and produces revelatory analyses of both Wordsworth and Dickens.

John Gordon is professor of English at Connecticut College.

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