The Reformer and the Eugenicist: Representations of Disease in Jane Eyre and Bleak House

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Frances M. Thielman (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
Web Site:
Jill Ehnenn

Abstract: My thesis applies the critical lens of disability studies to the Victorian public health crisis, and examines the novels Jane Eyre and Bleak House within that framework. In Jane Eyre, a group of wealthy benefactors intervenes to remedy the neglect that predisposed the Lowood schoolgirls to succumb the deadly typhus epidemic. I argue that this is Brontë’s portrayal of a formation of a Board of Public Health. I then show that Brontë uses this incident to highligh the reality that clean, well-behaved girls can contract a disease associated with dirty habits when their needs are neglected. In my chapter on Bleak House, I argue that in his description of Jo, Dickens plays on prevalent negative clichés to force his readers to face their own prejudices against the sick. He then shows how an incompetent public health bureaucracy becomes responsible for passing Jo’s illness to Esther, thereby removing the stigma from the diseases of the slum by showing that people of all social classes are subject to illness. Finally, Dickens offers a bit of hope for the future by placing Dr. Woodcourt in a government office.

Additional Information

Thielman, F.M. (2014). The Reformer and the Eugenicist: Representations of Disease in Jane Eyre and Bleak House. Unpublished master's thesis. Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.
Language: English
Date: 2014
Disability Studies, Jane Eyre, Bleak House, Victorian Public Health Reforms, History of Medicine

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