Victorian Psychology and Madness in "Lady Audley's Secret"

Term Paper, 2008

15 Pages, Grade: 2,5



1. Introduction

2. Victorian Psychology
2.1 Monomania
2.2 Heredity of Madness

3. Madness in Victorian Literature
3.1 Madness in Lady Audley’s Secret
3.2 Lady Audley – a mad woman?

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography.

1. Introduction

The Victorian period was an era with many inventions, renewals, development and changes. The influences of the Industrial Revolution could be seen and felt all over society and economy. Due to this, new economical theories were developed, the population steadily increased and the educational level improved.

Besides, the Victorian era was a very productive time for literature. Victorian novelists were massively influenced by the changes in society and the development of their country. In this time, new genres of literature were invented, such as the bildungsroman, detective and sensational novel. Due to the growing literacy and the introduction of mass media, literature was available for many more people and also different classes. Central topics in the novels often were crime and mystery, but also psychology and madness got more and more popular.

This paper will deal with psychology and madness in Victorian literature. In order to proof the theoretical background an analysis of the sensation novel Lady Audley’s Secret (1862) by Mary Elizabeth Braddon will be done. Madness plays a very important role in this novel and two contemporary theories of the 19th century are discussed.

The first part of the paper is about Victorian psychology in general. However, two selected theories of Victorian psychology will be looked at in detail in order to analyze Lady Audley’s Secret. The next chapter starts with a general overview about madness in Victorian literature. The next part deals with Lady Audley’s Secret, where a general overview about madness in the novel is given and than an analysis of the madness of Lady Audley follows. In the end, a conclusion will be given.

However, it is important to notice that this paper only offers an overview and an introduction to the topic.

2. Victorian Psychology

This chapter will only give a general overview about some selected features of Victorian psychology. Those aspects will play an important role in the analysis of some characters in Lady Audley’s Secret. However, first a short outline of the psychological history in the Victorian period and the most common beliefs will be given.

In the Victorian period many new theories about how the human mind works emerged and important basic discoveries were made by psychologists and theorists. Until the middle of the 19th century the intellect was mainly seen as a separate function of the human being. Moreover, psychological theorists understood the mind and the body as two unrelated mechanisms which each works on its own (Wee & Wyhe 2005). But not only academics and acknowledged theorists discussed about the function of the human mind. Due to the fact that psychological theories in general got published in several magazines, journals and periodicals, those scientific, and often also philosophical, theories not only reached the higher-educated society but also the middle and working classes. This initiated widespread social debates about psychological subjects in society (Vrettos 2002, p.3).

As well as in the United States of America and in the whole western continental Europe, research on psychological topics was done in Great Britain at the same time. However, the British research concentrated on the psychological basis of the mind. The methods of the research were partly based on observations but also on operations and trials (Vrettos 2002, p. 3). Nevertheless, psychology did not become a recognized science until the late Victorian period (Wee & Wyhe 2005).

At the beginning of the Victorian period the most widespread belief in society of how the mind worked was the theory of “associatonism”. This theory proposes that at the beginning, namely when a baby is born, the mind is only a blank slate. It first starts working through “the combination and association of ideas” (Vrettos 2002, p. 3). This theory got more or less abolished through the emerging ideas and theories of evolution and inheritance since the mid-Victorian period. The idea of this theory was that character, thoughts and will are developed and shaped through the individual’s interactions with the environment and that this also based on the principles of inheritance (Vrettos 2002, p. 4).

At the same time John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau, both Victorian psychologists, worked on ideas of childhood development. They stated that “experiences and habits acquired in childhood had a formative role on character, as well as on the structure and functioning of the adult mind” (Vrettos 2002, p. 5). Moreover, they emphasized that early influences and training are nearly impossible to change as an adult. Due to this, the right upbringing and education of children gained in importance. Consequently, a lot of advice literature for the proper training of children got published in the second half of the Victorian period and the genre of bildungroman was developed (Vrettos 2002, p.5).

The widespread opinion is that Alexander Bain’s The Senses and the Intellect, published in 1885, marks the beginning of modern psychology. This new form of psychology emerged from the associationism and evolutionary theories. Psychology was now based on the observable functions of the human mind as well as psychological concepts and experiences. This psychology was also a new form of reality-based psychology because the research concentrates on everyday human behavior, patterns and experiences (Wee & Wyhe 2005).

2.1 Monomania

In the Victorian period many new theories of insanity or madness emerged in order to give better and more precise diagnoses. One of them is monomania. According to Vrettos (2002, p. 7), monomania is “a condition in which a break in the psyche produces a singular fixation or aberration within a mind that was otherwise rational.” By “a break in mind” is meant, that emotion, will and reason do not function together but are separated from each other.

A very important feature of monomania is, that it is only a partial insanity (Vrettos 2002, p. 7) which means, that a person can otherwise appear absolutely normal. A monomaniac is simply excessive concentrated on one “single object or idea” (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary 2008), which sometimes can take over the whole mind and can even lead to hallucination.


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Victorian Psychology and Madness in "Lady Audley's Secret"
University of Marburg  (Fachbereich Fremdsprachliche Philologien)
The Victorians
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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422 KB
Victorian, Psychology, Madness, Lady, Audley, Secret
Quote paper
Katrin Blatt (Author), 2008, Victorian Psychology and Madness in "Lady Audley's Secret", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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