This essay charts the intersection of how three of the most prominent 19th-century serial writers—E.D.E.N. Southworth, Ann Stephens, and Laura Jean Libbey—connect “brain fever” with racial intimacy, a narrative strategy registering cultural anxieties about social stability. A forgotten convention of serial fiction, such fevers introduce other symptoms, like insanity, amnesia, and syncope so that women especially might evade post-Civil War racial fears or desires. In all these novels, mental and psychic debilities signal a culture’s need for reconstruction. All of these writers draw on plots where characters at key moments are struck by “brain fever,” portrayed as lost consciousness, disempowered thinking, psychic damage, erasure of memory and personality—that reveal social dysfunction.


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