The fear that suicidality could spread through textual contagion—that textually represented suicide could enter the reader’s mind and cause self-destruction—took hold long before Émile Durkheim theorized it in the Victorian period. This article argues that the fear of suicidal contagion and the horror of vaccination, both of which raged in Britain in the long eighteenth century, were linked to ideas about sympathy and the importation of the Other into the Self. With reference to the psychoanalytic notions of extimité and étrangerété; the eighteenth-century medical theories of William Rowley and Edward Jenner; the philosophy of “sympathy,” as adumbrated in the work of John Locke, Adam Smith, David Hume and Edmund Burke; and two key novels of sensibility (Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Julie and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther), this article examines the root of a belief that exists even today: that, in a suicidal process, the invading Other could become the Self and, Trojan horse-style, destroy it from the inside.


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pp. 389-417
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