This diagram of the skull illustrates the ‘divisions’ of ‘organs’ according to the theory of physiognomy. It is from Physiognomy founded on Physiology, a text by Alexander Walker, Scottish physiologist.
What is physiognomy?
Physiognomy is the assessment of an individual’s inner character based on their outward appearance, typically their facial features, although Walker applies an approach more aligned with phrenology. Indeed, physiognomy and phrenology were terms used interchangeably, and, for some, phrenology was considered a form of physiognomy.
In this diagram, Walker divides the skull into five parts, or ‘seats’, in the belief that the appearance of each area reveals more about an individual’s ‘Emotions’, ‘Ideas’, ‘Sensation’, ‘Passions’ and ‘Volition’.
Theories about the relationship between body and mind have existed for thousands of years. In the 18th century, the leading promoter of physiognomy was Swiss pastor Johann Kaspar Lavater. His Essays on Physiognomy (Physiognomische Fragmente; 1789–98) popularised the theory.
Physiognomy fell out of favour in the late 19th century. Modern scientists now classify physiognomy, like phrenology, as a pseudo-science.
Charlotte Brontë and phrenology
The Brontës may have read Walker's Physiognomy Founded on Physiology, which was available at the Keighley Mechanics's Institute, or Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy. Charlotte Brontë draws on phrenology to construct character – and characters's perceptions of each other – in her novel Jane Eyre (1847).
- Article by:
- Carol Atherton
- The novel 1832 - 1880
Carol Atherton explores the character of Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre through ideas of the ‘Other’, Charlotte Brontë’s narrative doubling and 19th-century attitudes towards madness and ethnicity.