Before Depression
1660 - 1800

"La maladie anglaise" : French views of depression and suicide in eighteenth-century England.

Jeffrey Hopes, Université du Maine, Le Mans

Delineating national character was something of an eighteenth-century obsession. At a time of growing national self-consciousness, commenting on the dominant traits of other peoples was the principal way to define one's own. No two countries traded cultural stereotypes more frequently than did France and England. Amongst the characteristics which French writers frequently attributed to the English was that of a melancholic temperament, a disposition to taciturnity, philosophical reflection, moroseness, and suicide. This talk will draw on a variety of sources, including literary texts, journalism, travel writing, historiography and medical treatises, to explore this French image of the depressed Englishman and its origins in perceived differences between the French and English climates, urbanism, social relations and history. The rooting of melancholia in collective identity raises important questions concerning the nature of such pathologies in an era that sees a growing interest in individual psychology. In particular, the French conception of the English national character highlights the way in which depression was linked to leisure, power and masculinity. Such issues enable us to identify the ideological function of English depression during the age of the Enlightenment.

Download this lecture as MP3

This site is updated regularly: 11/09/11
Web-control: G.Ingram