Physiological Fictions and the Fin-de-Siècle Female Brain

An important area of French medical research in the first half of the nineteenth-century was the supposedly anomalous, sensation-based functioning of the female brain (Drs. Voisin, Virey, Brachet, Briquet). This paper explores the late-century resurgence of such theory around the question of whether women could support an intense advanced education. It examines the conflicted attitudes of four females, the novelists Rachilde, Georges de Peyrebrune and Daniel Lesuer, and a medical doctor, Georgette Déga, as they tried to resist or rationalize the dogma that saw the female as a mentally diminished male. The juxtaposition of medical and fictional texts demonstrates that the so-called "automatic" functioning of the female brain led to her being embodied, int he male mind, as a symbol of the dreaded unconscious.

Michael R. Finn
Volume 39.3-4