Hawthorne and Antebellum Theories on Hereditary Insanity


  • Maria Kaspirek FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg, American Studies




Insanity, 19th Century, Domesticity, Heredity, Hawthorne


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. 

Author Biography

Maria Kaspirek, FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg, American Studies

Maria Kaspirek (Erlangen) is a PhD candidate within the graduate program "Presence and Tacit Knowledge" at the Friedrich Alexander-University Nuremberg-Erlangen. She holds an MLitt in English Literary Studies from the University of Aberdeen and received both her B.A. in Book Studies and her B.A. in Comparative Literature from the Johannes Gutenberg-University in Mainz. Her dissertation project "(In-)Sanitary Science. The Discourse of Mental Hygiene as Tacit Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Literature" aims to explore the intersections of medical and literary tacit and explicit knowledge on insanity.




How to Cite

Kaspirek, Maria. “Hawthorne and Antebellum Theories on Hereditary Insanity”. Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies, vol. 17, no. 1, May 2016, doi:10.5283/copas.254.