- Purchase/rental options available:
In 1896 Doctor Edouard Toulouse published the first volume of his Enquête médico-psychologique sur les rapports de la supériorité intellectuelle avec la névropathie (Médico-psychological Investigation into the Links Between Intellectual Superiority and Nevropathy). This work followed in the tradition of other nineteenth-century European scientists interested in the links between genius and neurosis (Jacques Moreau de Tours, Cesare Lombroso, and Max Nordau, among others). However, where earlier scientists practiced a “historical method” reliant on biographical anecdotes and literary excerpts, Toulouse sought to proceed by “direct observation,” painstakingly measuring fingerprints and body mass, collecting urine samples, and submitting his subjects to a barrage of intelligence tests. Much to the surprise of the reading public for whom the book was excerpted, the objects of Toulouse’s study were not criminals or patients, but famous novelists, poets, sculptors, painters, composers, and scientists. The 1896 volume was dedicated entirely to Emile Zola who had spent a year undergoing rigorous weekly tests. In this essay I question the seemingly odd complacency with which leading figures of the day agreed to subject themselves to such invasive and time-consuming poking and prodding. I place Toulouse’s study against the social context of other more mass market studies, “confessions,” and surveys of the 1880s and 1890s, before arguing that the writers’ decision to participate in studies like those of Toulouse was not simply a question of contributing to science, as Zola suggested, but also a self-serving attempt to reconfigure public image.