The Complicity of Friends

Martin N Raitiere

How George Eliot, G. H. Lewes, and John Hughlings-Jackson Encoded Herbert Spencer's Secret

2012
402 pages
$95.00
ISBN 9781611484182

Now in paperback

One of Victorian England's most famous philosophers harbored a secret: Herbert Spencer suffered from an illness so laden with stigma that he feared its revelation would ruin him. He therefore went to extraordinary lengths to hide his malady from the public. Exceptionally, he drew two of his closest friends - the novelist George Eliot and her partner, G. H. Lewes - into his secret. Years later, he also shared it with a remarkable neurologist, John Hughlings-Jackson, better placed than anyone else in England to understand his illness. Spencer insisted that all three support him without betraying his condition to others - and two of them did so. But George Eliot, still smarting from Spencer's rejection, years earlier, of her offer of love, did not. Ingeniously, she devised a means both of nominally respecting (for their contemporaries) and of violating (for our benefit) Spencer's injunction. What she hid from her peers she reveals to us in an act of deferred but audacious literary revenge. It's here decoded for the first time. Indeed The Complicity of Friends comprises the first disclosure of Spencer's hidden frailty but also, more importantly, of the responses it generated in the lives and works of his three notable friends.
This book provides a complete re-thinking of its principal figures. The novelist who emerges in these pages is a more sinuous and passionate George Eliot than the oracular Victorian we are used to hearing about. The significance of the friendship between Lewes, her irrepressible partner, and the inventive Hughlings-Jackson is outlined for the first time. And in an ironic twist, even his three farsighted confidants could not anticipate that, late in the 20th century, certain of Spencer's own intuitions about the nature and provenance of his illness would be vindicated. Those with any interest in George Eliot, Lewes, Hughlings-Jackson, or Spencer will be compelled to re-envision their personalities after reading The Complicity of Friends.


Reviews
"In this groundbreaking work, Raitiere (a practicing physician with a PhD in English literature) argues that the eminent Victorian philosopher Herbert Spencer suffered from a debilitating psychiatric illness but that his condition was only known to a few. This secret was betrayed in a coded fashion by one of his closest friends, George Eliot, in her novella The Lifted Veil and to some extent in Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda. Eliot was advised and counseled by her partner, George Henry Lewes, "who had developed a serious interest in neuropsychiatric illness" partly through his friendship with Spencer. The fourth person in Raitiere's account, Hughlings-Jackson, was a brilliant neurologist. Raitiere provides a detailed account of the work of all four, arguing that "Spencer's illness functions as the nidus round which George Eliot, Lewes, and Hughlings-Jackson organized certain of their key works." Providing a thorough examination of the writings of each and areas of their work hitherto neglected or ignored, the book is truly interdisciplinary and one of the most fascinating (albeit dense) studies to emerge for many decades on the interconnections between Victorian literature, psychology, and allied areas. Summing up: highly recommended."

-W. Baker, Northern Illinois University; CHOICE April 2013

"Providing a thorough examination of the writings of each and areas of their work hitherto neglected or ignored, this book is truly interdisciplinary and one of the most fascinating studies to emerge for many decades on the interconnections between Victorian literature, psychology, and allied areas. Summing up: Highly Recommended."
--W. Baker, Northern Illinois University

About the author:

Martin N. Raitiere earned a Ph.D. in English and comparative literature from Columbia University in 1976. After teaching for a brief period, he decided to pursue a career as a physician. He obtained his M.D. from the University of Texas at San Antonio and completed a residency in psychiatry at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Early in his residency he somehow found time to publish a book on the English poet Sir Philip Sidney. For the past twenty years he has had an active and generally hospital-based practice in general adult psychiatry in Portland, Oregon. His intellectual interests at this time are threefold. First, he continues to treat adults with major psychiatric conditions. Second, he is pursuing research topics in neuroscience that have a bearing on the biology of bipolar and seasonal affective disorders. Third, he maintains an interest in exploring the interface between the sciences and the humanities. This led him to study the history of psychiatry and the neurosciences in the nineteenth century. While exploring the work of George Eliot and her friends, he came upon heretofore neglected evidence suggesting that Herbert Spencer suffered from a neurobehavioral disorder that he had taken extraordinary pains to conceal. Thus originated The Complicity of Friends.

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