Existing studies have argued that Jane Austen’s depictions of hypochondria are rather simplistic. John Wiltshire maintains that hypochondria in Austen is always comedic, and D. A. Miller claims that it is frustratingly static—but both oversimplify the situation. Hypochondria existed in Austen’s time in a liminal state that challenged the health/illness binary and exposed the tenuous authority of the doctors who enforced it. Austen’s novels were produced during a transitional period in the history of medicine; even as people attended more to their state of health, doctors were not yet treated as trustworthy authorities. Rather than diagnosing hypochondriac characters as either legitimately ill or malingering, this essay embraces the hermeneutical problem that hypochondria poses to characters, doctors, and readers alike by treating hypochondria as an interpretive occasion. By analyzing the performances of Mrs. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), Lady Bertram (Mansfield Park), Mr. Woodhouse (Emma), Mary Musgrove (Persuasion), and Diana, Susan, and Arthur Parker (Sanditon) in relation to early nineteenth-century medical sources, this essay examines the ways hypochondria operates in/between performance and medical paradigms in order to theorize a dramaturgy of hypochondria that reveals the complex motivations, varied stylings, and historical context of the performances of hypochondria in Jane Austen.

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