valetudinarian

Category: Body | Type: Glossary Word | Title: Emma (in Context) | Author: Jane Austen | Vol: Volume I | Ch: Chapter I

A person suffering from weak health and/or much consumed with his health.

That he has been so "all his life" indicates more a psychological than a physiological condition. Apparently like Jane Austen's mother at this period (born in 1739, she lived to be 88), he suffers from hypochondria. Medical theory of the time viewed hypochondria as related to "melancholy," or depression, and we learn a couple of paragraphs down that he was "a nervous man, easily depressed." He's fortunate in being able to afford the condition, unfortunate in being able to indulge it.

Mr. Woodhouse's hypochondria, anxiety, and sedentary life link him with a feminine or more properly effeminate nature. It's not a feminine Austen approves of. Her heroines are active, spirited young women like Elizabeth Bennet, Marianne Dashwood, and Emma. An exception is Fanny Price of Mansfield Park, but she has a countervailing spiritual strength.

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