Still working on the research for my conference paper. I have twenty-one days left to write it, which suddenly seems like not nearly enough. The Grasmere website says papers should be 2750 words, which is hardly anything – that would come out to about eight and a half pages double-spaced. If I had to write a term paper that length, I could wait until the day before it was due and crank it out overnight. However, the website also says that each paper will be allotted forty minutes total for presentation, comprising twenty-five minutes to read the paper and fifteen minutes for discussion. That's more like a twenty-page paper. Maybe more. I read really fast.
So I've been reading up on hypochondria, and sensibility, and eighteenth-century medicine, and it's all just unutterably fascinating, but the problem is that I technically do not have an argument. I have an abstract that indicates the direction my paper will take, but ... yeah. No argument, really. Here's the abstract that I submitted:
"Twenty-first-century medicine defines hypochondria as a mental health disorder often associated with depression. In the early nineteenth century, however, medical definitions of this condition were complicated by notions of sensibility. As a 'sensitive' nature carried with it an implication of moral superiority, an air of vague illness acquired a certain cachet. Medical texts of the time acknowledge that some patients were able to make themselves ill by 'imagination,' yet a valetudinarian could still exert considerable influence over friends and family, both by virtue of his or her evident 'refinement,' and the possibility that he or she might be 'really' ill.
"Building on Helen Deutsch’s suggestion that 'medicine and literature underwent parallel processes of professionalization and popularization in the eighteenth century,' my paper will explore the ways in which sensibility in literature, and the diagnosis of hypochondria/hysteria in medicine, meet in the neurotic characters of Jane Austen's novels. Mary Elliot Musgrove in Persuasion, Mr. Woodhouse and Mrs. Churchill in Emma, and Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice provide notable examples of characters who use Romantic and pre-Romantic conceptions of sensibility to their advantage through their imagined illnesses. Austen's characters appear to be drawn very accurately, both as portraits of valetudinarians as the term was understood in the nineteenth century, and as people whose circumstances would be likely to engender hypochondria based on current medical knowledge."
So if you see an argument in there, let me know.