Graduation Year

2010

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

English

Major Professor

Tova Cooper, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Philip Sipiora, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John N. Huy DC. DACBN

Keywords

Plumbism, Burton, Croton, Aqueduct, Schizophrenia

Abstract

Melville wrote Bartleby the Scrivener as a literary portrayal of the Humoral theory of disease. Virchow disproved that theory five years after the novella was published, suggesting Melville was humanizing an unknown pathology. A clinical assessment of the text reveals low-grade lead poisoning, which best explains the strange behavior, abnormal appearance, and premature death of the character Bartleby as depicted by the author. In conjunction with the textual substantiation, historical evidence indicates that at the time Melville wrote the work, one in ten people he encountered suffered from the effects of the same disease. Informed with the identity of Melville’s unknown pathology, the work can be critically read in terms of the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle as an archetypal first-person account of a population whose societal norms are disrupted when confronted with the victims of undiagnosed lead poisoning.

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