Getting Ahead of Myself

29 Jul

Lately I’ve been studying myself in the mirror more frequently.  It’s not just the gray hairs, dark eye circles, or adult acne that keep me coming back.  No, it’s my head shape.

It’s possible that the title of our blog may be more accurate that we first thought, but these authors seem to put a lot of stake in phrenology.  Have you noticed it?

It first came to my attention in Moby-Dick (if someone spotted it an earlier novel, please let me know.  Please, please, the indentation behind my right ear can’t take not knowing.)  You remember all those references, right?  First Ishmael spotted the phrenological similarities of Queequeg and George Washington.  Then in Chapter 79 he laments the fact no one has really analyzed the sperm whale’s phrenology.  He proceeds to fix that, even going so far as to compare the horizontal tailed fish’s forehead to those of Shakespeare and Melancthon.

As far as I remember Mrs. Stowe never used the term phrenology, but she did talk about the noble shape of Eva’s head.  And Uncle Tom talks about his own noggin bringing in a certain fee for it’s niceness.

And Flaubert wasn’t afraid to shy away from this study of personality based on head shape.  In fact, Charles got got a blue phrenological head as a birthday gift from Léon.  Isn’t that thoughtful?  The head makes two other appearances in the book, once when Emma is sick and Charles sits under it’s shadow to write to his mother, and the second when it is not included in the appraisal of their possessions because of its professional use.  Ironic, right?

I haven’t run into any phrenology in Crime and Punishment yet, but don’t you imagine that Roskolnikov must have a head shaped like an gourd?  Charming in a cornucopia centerpiece, yet disturbing in is growthy, diseasish way.


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One response to “Getting Ahead of Myself

  1. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    August 1, 2012 at 7:13 am

    Very insightful. Glad you pulled all this together!


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