'How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare that after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.' No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement. — from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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July 17, 2012

Phrenology



      Soon after they met in Edinburgh, Combe examined Isabella's skull. He informed her that she had an unusually large cerebellum, an organ found just above the hollow at the nape of the neck. The cerebellum, he explained, was the seat of Amativeness, or sexual love -- men typically had larger cerebella than women, discernible in their thicker necks, just as highly sexed animals such as rams, bulls and pigeons had fatter necks than other creatures. Another of Combe's subjects, the nine-year-old Prince of Wales, had a similarly shaped skull;  when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert consulted the phrenologist about the upbringing of their children, he observed that the young prince's 'Amativeness is large and I suspect will soon give trouble'.  Combe's own amative region, he said, was small -- he had not known the 'wild freshness of morning', even in his youth. ...
      Combe pointed out that Isabella's large Amativeness was made the more dangerous by her small faculties of Cautiousness and Secretiveness, positioned just above the ears on the sides of the skull; these suggested that she was liable to be impulsive and indiscreet.  Perhaps most worrying of all, she had a small organ of Veneration; the crown of her head was depressed, which suggested that she lacked reverence for earthly and heavenly authority; Isabella was not only sexually enthusiastic, then, but she was also indifferent to law, religion and morality.
      Yet Combe identified two areas of Isabella's head that indicated a craving for the good opinion of others:  her Love of Approbation and her Adhesiveness were both over-sized. The Love of Approbation was visible in the full, broad undulations of the back of her upper skull. Combe claimed that this faculty was often large in women and in French people, as well as in dogs, mules, and monkeys.  It suggested that Isabella was eager to please, and needed to guard against vanity, ambition, a hunger for praise. Her well-developed Adhesiveness -- just below her Love of Approbation, and also typically larger in women than in men -- indicated her inclination to form strong attachments, sometimes to unsuitable objects or people.

from Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace, by Kate Summerscale

Hard not to be horrified, hard not to laugh, hard not to be relieved that the movers aren't coming for another week and I can keep reading.

{Turn-of-the-century 'phrenology head' found here.}


3 comments:

Lisa May said...

I wonder if some of our 21st century "science" might someday sound just as weird, or horrifying.

JoAnn said...

I really want to read this one, but should start with The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher since it's already on the shelf. Good luck with your move!

michelle said...

The only other book I have read with any reference made to 'phrenology' was Edgar Allan Poe's The Murders in The Rue Morgue.
I am really looking forward to Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace, horrifying as it may be. ;)
All the best with your move!

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