[This is a preprint of an article accepted for publication in the
Journal of the History of the Neurosciences, © 2000 Swets & Zeitlinger]
Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts, 1830-1890
edited by Jenny Bourne Taylor & Sally Shuttleworth
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998)
Christopher D. Green
The first thing that strikes one about this collection is the diversity of sources from which its documents are culled. There are, of course, a wide variety of papers by the scientific men one would expect: Gall, Braid, Carpenter, Spencer, Ribot, Esquirol, Haekel, Galton, Broca, Darwin, Huxley, Romanes, etc. In addition, there are pieces by the amateurs and popularizers of phrenology, mesmerism, and other mental treatments that are too often minimized or ignored by disciplinary historians of psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience: George and Andrew Combe, Hariet Martineau, and Samuel Tuke, among others. More interesting still, however, are the names which, though familiar, I did not expect to see in a book like this, such as Charles Dickens on physiognomy and on psychiatry, Charlotte Brontë on phrenology, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge on associationism. But there is still more -- pieces by several people whose names I did not know, and a number of popular anonymous pieces as well. In short, this is not just a collection to be assigned to one's students, but rather a fascinating literary labyrinth documenting the byways and cross-pollination of common and "professional" consciousness regarding the mind -- especially the unwell mind -- during the heart of the era in which the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry came into their own.
The book is divided into five main sections, entitled (1) Reading the Mind (i.e., physiognomy, phrenology, mesmerism), (2) The Unconscious Mind and the Workings of Memory, (3) The Sexual Body (i.e., womanhood, hysteria/menstruation, masculinity), (4) Insanity and Nervous Disorders, and (5) Heredity, Degeneration, and Modern Life, respectively. Each of these sections begins with a few pages of introduction by the editors, and each has been subdivided into groups of ten or fewer documents. In total, the volume contains 119 distinct chapters, most of them quite short. Indeed, if I have one complaint about this volume, it is that the editing was somewhat too severe. One only gets a taste -- typically less than 5 pp. -- of each of the documents represented. Still, the referencing is sufficient to allow the interested reader to following up on anything that piques his or her interest. Each chapter begins with a few stage-setting sentences by the editors, but it might have been nice if there had been somewhat more of an effort to contextualize the documents with additional historical and interpretive material. It is one thing to allow the words to stand on their own, but it can be difficult to really understand their thrust and intent without knowing something more of their origins, the historical conjunctures the brought them into existence. This would have required additional editors, however -- Taylor and Shuttleworth are both from English Departments at Sussex in the UK -- and would have lengthened considerably a volume that is already over 400 pp. in length .
All in all, this book is well worth a look. All but the most erudite and experienced researchers are bound to find new and interesting tidbits.