Hawthorne and Antebellum Theories on Hereditary Insanity

Maria Kaspirek


Twentieth-century concepts of degenerative hereditary insanity and Social Darwinism can be viewed as preconfigured by the less fatalistic stance of antebellum medical and social thought. Taking the latter into account, the following article will analyze Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novels The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables in order to explore nineteenth-century theories on heredity and acquired character. These literary works do not simply represent antebellum concepts of madness, but actively contribute to or critique contemporary notions on insanity and therefore shape the early psychiatric landscape in their own right. 


Insanity; 19th Century; Domesticity; Heredity; Hawthorne

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