Cornhill Magazine,  9 (1864), 257–91.

Denis Duval Ch. 1–3  [1/5]

[William M Thackeray]


Novel, Serial


Mental Illness, Obstetrics, Gender, Religion, Medical Practitioners

    Following the birth of her daughter, the Countess de Saverne falls into 'mental disquietude' (270), during which time 'the images and pictures which she had seen in the churches operated upon her fevered brain' and induce 'hallucinations' in which she is visited by Saint Fabian and Saint Sebastian (who is 'beautiful, and covered with arrows' [272]), who encourage her to convert to Catholicism. She remains in this 'febrile condition, if not unconscious of her actions, at least not accountable for them', and wakes 'as out of a dream' only three months later 'having a dreadful recollection of the circumstances which had passed'. The eponymous narrator comments that 'Many physicians have told me how often after the birth of a child the brain of the mother will be affected'. The Countess's relations feel 'justly' that she is 'not yet quite restored to her reason' and continue to consult 'physicians' who are 'treated by the patient with scorn, laughter, insult sometimes; sometimes with tears and terror, according to her wayward mood'. None of the remedies 'prescribed' by them for her 'most puzzling [...] condition' have any success. (273) When the Countess flees to England she is treated by an 'apothecary' who can only 'shake his head' over her continuing 'sleeplessness' and 'constant fever' (282). The 'poor crazy lady' becomes convinced that she is the queen, and, while waving a carving knife, threatens to behead her English hosts, whom she regards as 'dukes and princes—I don't know what—poor soul' (283–84).


Thackeray 1867

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