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  • Shalyn Claggett (a1)

In 1840, the Phrenological Journal published an anonymous personal testimony of phrenological salvation titled “Remarkable Case of Change of Character and Pursuits.” The article appears in the “Cases and Facts” section of the periodical, commonly reserved for correspondents who provided personal accounts of the truth of phrenology. The correspondent in this “Case” makes use of the conventional structure of the conversion narrative: youthful deviance, a moment of illumination, and rebirth into a new life of virtue, peace, and joy. Beginning with a description of his former life, he explains that being “Born in the lap of luxury – bred in the tainted atmosphere of opinion” led to the “best years of [his] existence [being] passed in idle, if not in sinful pursuits.” After becoming a military officer, his dissolute behavior increases until he finally decides to correct his character, and “the great instrument employed was phrenology” (342). After adopting a disciplined regimen of moral and intellectual mental exercises, he triumphantly emerges as a man who better knows himself and his capabilities. With his “new” character comes a new life more suited to his cultivated faculties: realizing that a soldier's advancement depends on the “number of victims” sacrificed for the country's cause, he “selected the more humble profession of the Civil Engineer, for which [he] believed, phrenologically, nature had made a fair provision.” He concludes by noting that his life has since been prosperous, and that he hopes now to “aid the cause of that science” through the phrenological education of his own children and his public confession in the journal (343).

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J. L. Austin How to Do Things with Words. 2nd ed.Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1975.

Susan Hoecker-Drysdale . “The Enigma of Harriet Martineau's Letters on Science.” Women's Writing 2.2 (1995): 155–65.

Harriet Martineau . Selected Letters. Ed. Valerie Sanders . Oxford: Clarendon, 1990.

Rick Rylance . Victorian Psychology and British Culture, 1850–1880. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.

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Victorian Literature and Culture
  • ISSN: 1060-1503
  • EISSN: 1470-1553
  • URL: /core/journals/victorian-literature-and-culture
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