Nervous Degeneration

Janet Oppenheim

in “Shattered Nerves”

Published in print July 1991 | ISBN: 9780195057812
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199854394 | DOI:
Nervous Degeneration

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In 1905, the idea of nervous degeneration was inseparable from the more open discussion of moral degradation and physical debility. For a country beleaguered by worldwide competitors, nerves were more than ever necessary to sustain the British people in their struggle to maintain international hegemony. In the clamor for national efficiency, conditions of body were inseparably intertwined with states of mind. Over and over again, all manner of alarmists asked whether the British people had, not merely the stamina, but the will to triumph over their rivals. Never had the connotations of power, force, and energy associated with the nerves assumed greater significance in the public consciousness. Curiously enough, degeneration theory prolonged the life of the mid-Victorian certainty that private exertions were the key to public progress.

Keywords: nervous degeneration; Edwardian psychiatry; national efficiency; Great Britain; military rivals; Lord Roberts; Crichton-Browne; degeneration theory

Chapter.  15177 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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