Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Comparative Literature


Dr. Janelle Blankenship


This dissertation focuses upon the ways in which nineteenth-century physicians in the emergent field of neurology conceptualized and catalogued the neurological condition, migraine, and the ways in which European literary texts reimagined and interrogated such medical classifications. A recognized condition for hundreds of years, migraine in the nineteenth century became pathological; migraineurs became a “nervous” modern figure that haunted medicine and literary fiction. Anxieties regarding the construction of fragmented vision, bodies, gender, and consciousness render the migraine figure a relevant symbol for the modern era. The nineteenth-century medical treatises by Jean-Martin Charcot, Edward Liveing, and Hubert Airy reveal that a classic sign of migraine is scotoma, the appearance of bright or colourful, jagged shapes that blot the visual field. Using the psychoanalytical framework of Jacques Lacan’s theories of méconnaissance, the gaze, and the scotomized subject, I study British and European novels of the late-nineteenth century that thematize migraine pain, scotoma and perceptual shifts. Works include Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1872); Émile Zola’s La Curée (1871), Pot-Bouille (1882), L’Œuvre (1886), La Bête humaine (1890), and Une page d’amour (1878); Benito Pérez Galdós’ Fortunata y Jacinta (1886-7); George Gissing’s New Grub Street (1891), and Sarah Grand’s The Heavenly Twins (1893). I argue that the medical discourse regarding migrainous bodies contributes to European literature’s negotiations of gender, aesthetics, and perception through a paradoxical mode of embodiment. While migraineurs experience a disruption in the visual field, they also reflect and diagnose the fractures of nineteenth-century modernity.