• $5.99

Publisher Description

ANNE FINCH'S PINDARIC ODE, "The Spleen" (1702), opens with a question: "What art thou, Spleen?" (1). Much of what follows in the poem is an exploration of the many faces of this malady (also known in the eighteenth century as melancholy, hypochondria, vapours, nerves, and hysteria). In one passage, the speaker describes two categories of spleen's victims: With great economy, Finch here captures several of the mysterious--yet distinct and prevailing--views of spleen's causes. The root source of its symptoms is unknown: spleen's "Slaves" at times exhibit "Laughters unprovok'd" for no apparent reason. The ailment may also be affected, as when the "Imperious Wife" assumes the common pose of the distraught hysteric in order to manipulate her husband. Finally, a disappearing, yet lingering, medical view--that the female version of spleen (usually called hysteria, or vapours) was based in woman's inherent bodily weakness--finds its way into Finch's poem. "Vapours" were thought to rise to the brain when women's already-excitable passions became "o'erheated," resulting in hysterical symptoms such as vast effusions of tears. Although Finch identifies some prevalent theories, she displays medical astuteness by refusing to endorse them unequivocally. She satirizes the feigned attack of the "Wife" and ultimately rejects physiological models; "Falsly, the Mortal Part we blame," the speaker asserts in an earlier passage, "Of our deprest, and pond'rous Frame" (26-27). By concluding with the death of a physician searching in vain for the true cause of spleen, she brings us back to the initial conundrum of her poem--that spleen is a "Proteus to abus'd Mankind, / Who never yet thy real Cause cou'd find" (2-3). Finch's poem therefore engages with eighteenth-century medical discourse. Moreover, the ode was admired in medical circles; the physician William Stukeley chose to include it in his 1723 treatise, Of the Spleen, calling it "[an] admirable poem on the spleen [which] I judg'd necessary to help out my own description of the disease."

Professional & Technical
June 1
Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

More Books by English Studies in Canada