Date of Award

7-16-2008

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Thomas L. McHaney - Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Marti Singer

Third Advisor

Dr. Nancy Chase

Abstract

The medical division between constitutional homeopathy and allopathic medicine shaped the culture in which William Faulkner grew up and wrote. Early 20th century America was daily subjected to a variety of conflicting approaches to maintaining or recovering physical, psychological, or spiritual health. The culture was discussing the role of vitalism for good health; the use and dosage of medicine to treat the individual or to treat the disease instead; the interaction of the mind, body, and spirit; the tendency of personality to emerge from inherent biology or acquired traits; the varied explanations for illness; and the legitimacy of doctors, their philosophies, and their remedies. These competing definitions of psycho-biological health informed Faulkner’s character conceptions and portrayals. In their psycho-biological traits, some of his characters represent concurrently published homeopathic descriptions of constitutions quite accurately. Faulkner’s own life may have offered him opportunities to learn about alternative medicine and generated an interest--along with other medical dissidents--in opposing the newly-garnered authority of modern scientific medicine. It is also likely that Faulkner’s own beliefs about a divinity present in humans and the human capacity to neglect their spiritual essence would have instead supported the older, more romanticized, homeopathic ideas based on mind-body typology to balance an invisible vitalism. Medicine and literature has recently established itself as an engaging and complementary-paired field in the humanities. This study contributes to the maturing interdisciplinary field by contemplating a famous author and some of his character portrayals from a medical or health perspective. This study of the writer and his fictional people suggests that the unorthodox ideology of homeopathy continued to play a role in the culture through literature, even as it lacked legitimate authority from the newly established medical community.

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