THE HEALTHY BODY AND VICTORIAN CULTURE by Bruce Haley

THE HEALTHY BODY AND VICTORIAN CULTURE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Victorians were obsessed with health, Bruce Haley states in this splendid scholarly analysis, and proceeds to develop this theme through a brief examination of medicine in the 19th century and lengthy exegeses on the writings of principal novelists, schoolmasters, and clergymen. Cholera, influenza, and other infectious diseases periodically took huge tolls in England a century ago, and a third of the children died before the age of five. If medicine was powerless to heal, then logically one should strive toward prevention--cultivating the body's forces to achieve a state of healthiness. But bodily health was never an end in itself. Mental and spiritual health were entwined in the pursuit so that the ultimate Christian goal was a wholeness--and a holiness: spiritual perfection, virtue, right actions, true manliness. Haley illustrates the evolution of these ideas and reactions to them in the fads of hydrotherapy or homeopathy, the work of the sanitary reformers, and, ultimately, in the proliferation--reaching manic proportions-of sports, games, calisthenics, and such pursuits as mountain climbing. (Roller skating became ""Rinkomania."") He examines the ideas and ideals of health in Ruskin, Carlyle, Spencer, Newman, Kingsley, Arnold (father and son), Eliot, Meredith, and others, showing the evolution of each writer's thinking and relating it to others. The main characters of major novels-such as The Mill on the Floss, The Egoist, Tom Brown's School Days--and others less well known are analyzed in relation to the novelist's concepts. The general theme is that the hero's characterological flaws--manifest in various kinds of ill health-lead to tragic consequences, Haley has done a great service in focusing on the concept of health in Western tradition. He might have added-and let us hope that in a future volume he will-what the American response and contribution to the concept of health have been, and to what extent Victorian concepts still prevail.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press