A Gendered Affliction: Women, Writing, Madness

  • Allan Ingram
  • Michelle Faubert


In the eighteenth century, the realm of madness was a locus of intensity in terms of the perception of women. Characteristics that were attributed to women multiplied in degree when madness was on the horizon. If women were viewed as passive and sexualized, mad women were viewed thus to a much greater degree, for, in and of itself, madness was perceived as having the same features. As such, we may regard eighteenth-century madness as a gendered affliction: what characterized women also characterized madmen. This topic I will outline shortly with reference to the treatment of the mad in madhouses. First, however, I will delineate the connection between madness and women as it is established by one of the most famous — and, indeed, most influential — female writers of the century, Mary Wollstonecraft. In her political works, such as A Vindication of the Rights of Men from 1790, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman from 1792, and in her novels, such as The Wrongs of Woman, or Maria, published in 1798, Wollstonecraft illustrates that eighteenth-century women were encouraged to adopt the same characteristics as those that were widely recognized as typifying madmen.1 By reading these different modes of Wollstonecraft’s literary output in conjunction, it becomes apparent that Wollstonecraft presents popularly conceived womanhood as an afflicted gender.


Eighteenth Century French Revolution Cultural Construction Female Writer Sentimental Nature 
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© Michelle Faubert 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Allan Ingram
  • Michelle Faubert

There are no affiliations available

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