Mary Chapman

Mary Chapman

PhD Student

Summary: My thesis examines how literature shaped the development of gendered psycho-medical theory in the 19th century. It is interdisciplinary, combining literary studies and the history of psychiatry.


I completed both my BA English Language & Literature and MA Nineteenth-Century Studies at King's College London, and am now a doctoral student supervised in the English and PRHS (History of Science) departments at Leeds.

Current Research 

My thesis, funded by an AHRC WRoCAH doctoral studentship, is entitled Writing Women's Madness: Literature and the Development of Gendered Psycho-Medical Theory, 1845-1895.

My research investigates theories of female madness in the Victorian period, exploring how gendered social ideologies contributed to their formation. I argue that beliefs about female insanity were formulated through a circulation of ideas between a medical and socio-cultural domain. This circulation was not linear, but instead an active and transformative process which functioned through a network of discourses. My thesis seeks to trace this circulation in just one of these discourses: nineteenth-century literature. It looks at how the materiality of different texts influenced the articulation of ideas of female madness- be that through genre, language, or the mode of their production within the literary marketplace. I have located a literary network of medical textbooks, periodical journalism, and women’s writing, through which theories of the female mind were developed. Through research into these different types of literature, I will explore how texts facilitated the slippage between cultural and scientific beliefs.

Research Interests

My research interests focus on the Victorian period, and include:

  • The mind sciences in Victorian literature
  • Gender and sexuality in the nineteenth century
  • Women writers, particularly from 1860-1900
  • Urban culture and literature
  • Gothic fiction
  • Victorian childhood

Other Research and Public Engagement Projects

  • Workshop Coordinator, Farnley Academy, Leeds, 2017
    I designed a workshop on gender and critical thinking, which I delivered in a series of classes to Farnley students aged 13-16. The workshop engages students with historical concepts of femininity, and asks them to critically assess how women are portrayed today. I also set up an after-school "Crit Club" to introduce students to university level teaching styles in the humanities.
    The workshop is now available for roll-out in other institutions. If interested, please do not hesitate to contact me. 

  • Doctoral Assistant, Mind Boggling Medical History, University of Oxford, 2017
    I am currently assisting with an AHRC funded project, developing a game that aims to teach users about medical beliefs, past and present. Mind Boggling Medical History is part of the larger project, Constructing Scientific Communities. Further information about the game can be found here:

  • Research Assistant, Bethlem Archives and Museum, 2014
    During this internship I researched and wrote a commissioned paper on visiting practices and entertainment at Bethlem Asylum in the late-Regency and early-Victorian period. I presented my findings at a public lecture, which I repeated in 2016. 

Conference Papers

  • The Case of the Madwoman: Deconstructing Gendered Theories about Female Mental Illness within Nineteenth-Century Psycho-Medical Writing, British Society for the History of Science Postgraduate Conference, 2017

  • The "Noble Institution for the Insane": Late-Regency and early-Victorian visiting practices at Bethlem, Fairfax House Georgian Studies Symposium, 2016  

Blog Posts


  • AHRC WRoCAH Doctoral Studentship, University of Leeds, 2016
  • Nineteenth-Century Studies Prize, King's College London, 2014
    (awarded to the student with the highest cumulative score in the postgraduate programme)