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4. Victorian Psychology

Athena Vrettos


Subject Psychology
Literature » Victorian Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405132916.2005.00006.x


Extract

In the opening chapters of Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet (1887), Holmes explains to Dr. Watson his theory of mental structure: “You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before.” (ch. 2) In Holmes's theory of finite mental space we can see a number of characteristic assumptions of nineteenth-century psychology-assumptions about how memory works; how mental energy functions in an economy of balance and exchange; how crowded minds can become disorganized and confused; how the mind should be used most efficiently; and how individuals can control, or even construct, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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