Strange Cases: Jekyll & Hyde Narratives as Rhetorical Strategy in Sir Alexander Morison's Physiognomy of Mental Diseases
- Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
- Oxford University Press
- Volume 75, Number 2, April 2020
- pp. 151-170
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Sir Alexander Morison's Physiognomy of Mental Diseases (1838) was created as a didactic tool for physicians, depicting lunatics in both the active and dormant states of disease. Through the act of juxtaposition, Morison constituted his subjects as their own Jekylls and Hydes, capable of radical transformation. In doing so, he marshaled artistic and clinical, visual and textual approaches in order to pose a particular argument about madness as a temporally manifested, visually distinguishable state defined by its contrast with reason. This argument served a crucial function in legitimizing the emergent discipline of psychiatry by applying biomedical methodologies to the observation and classification of distinctly physical symptoms. Robert Louis Stevenson's "quintessentially Victorian parable" serves as a metaphor for the way 19th-century alienists conceptualized insanity, while the theme of duality at the core of Stevenson's story serves as a framework for conceptualizing both psychiatry and the subjects it generates. It was (and is) a discipline formulated around narrative as the primary organizing structure for its particular set of paradoxes, and specifically, narratives of the self as a fluid, dynamic, and contradictory entity.