I'm supposed to be leaving for England in 12 hours, so naturally I am still doing doing laundry and packing. I guess technically I'm leaving for Cincinnati in 12 hours, since I have a layover there, but my point is that I'm not ready. (Got my passport, though!)
The paper? Hmm. The good news is that I have an argument now, I think. Originally my argument was going to be that although Austen probably has fairly simple reasons for the behavior of her hypochondriac characters - comic relief, plot devices - their behavior and circumstances are consistent with our current knowledge of hypochondria. However, after some further research into the current literature on hypochondria and related issues, I've come to the somewhat obvious conclusion that most of Austen's hypochondriacs are faking. The exception is Mr. Woodhouse in Emma, who seems genuinely obsessive about health issues. Interestingly, he is also the "hypochondriac" character who is treated with the most indulgence and the least sarcasm, both by the author and the other characters.
I also find it interesting that for every fake hypochondriac in Austen's novels, there is an equal and opposite woman of feeling, who possesses true sensibility, and genuinely suffers physical distress as a result of her mental and emotional stress*. So I think my argument now is that in spite of the backlash against sentiment which was well under way by the time Austen wrote her novels - a backlash in which she gleefully participated - she was still invested in the idea of sensibility as a mark of gentility.
The other good news is that I'm not presenting until August 5th, so I'll have time to, you know, "revise" after I arrive at the conference.
*I'm leaving Sanditon out of the discussion because, although it is about people whose health obsession is their hobby, it was unfinished when the author died. Austen was a great reviser, and sometimes a drastic reviser, as the two disparate endings of Persuasion demonstrate; therefore, I'm not willing to draw a lot of conclusions based on analysis of a work that she never got a chance to revise to her satisfaction.