The Dean Disordered: Jonathan Swift and the Humoral Body
Child, Paul William
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This thesis focuses on the chronic illnesses that the great Irish satirist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) complained about throughout his long life: “Giddyness,” deafness, and “Noise in [the] Ears.” In 1881, these were diagnosed as the symptoms of Ménière’s Disease, an idiopathic and incurable disorder of the inner ear identified clinically almost 120 years after his death. Swift’s modern biographers have almost universally accepted this diagnosis as the “truth” about his illnesses; his critics have read his imaginative works through this clinical lens. From the outset my own study challenges the retrospective diagnosis, arguing that we can appreciate Swift’s experiences as a sick person and his representations of those experiences in imaginative works like Gulliver’s Travels only by returning him to the humoral body and understanding of illness that he himself knew. Having returned Swift to his humoral body, this thesis considers first how he explained his own disorders and tried to restore and maintain humoral balances, especially through a regimen of diet and exercise. It considers next how he experienced illness socially as well as physically and how he performed and reimagined himself in the “sick role.” Finally, it considers how he represented his experiences as a sick person in Gulliver’s Travels. The study argues that all of these measures—humoral narrative, regimen, performance in the sick role, and imaginative representation in the Travels—were ways for Swift to make sense of and impose order upon his disordered body. By historicizing Swift’s chronic disorders and his lived experiences as a sick person, the thesis makes contributions to both our biographical understanding of the man and our critical reading of his imaginative writings.