Uncle Toby's Groin and Lismahago's Scalp: Representations of War, Trauma, and Healing in 18th-Century English Literature
presentationposted on 07.08.2014, 00:00 by Harry L. II Whitlock
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a response to the horrors of combat is not an invention of the twentieth century. As early as the eighteenth century, the novelists Laurence Sterne and Tobias Smollett noted the traumatic effects of war to soldiers through their novels. In Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy , the character, Uncle Toby, is a veteran who clearly suffers from PTSD. He has repressed the significance of his wounding to his masculinity and displaced the location of his wound from his body to a geographic location. In contrast, Smollett's The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, tells of the Scottish officer, Lismahago. This soldier has been severely wounded in the colonial wars in North America, yet he does not suffer from PTSD. While Toby seeks to understand why and where he was wounded, Lismahago seeks to find a place in a world that is very different to him because of his experience. By applying the concepts of psychoanalytic and modern trauma theory to these two characters we can see that many of the symptoms of trauma, as well as processes for treating trauma disorders, were recognized much earlier than the beginning of the twentieth century.