Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady

Mary-Kay Wilmers writes:

Amativeness was the cause of Isabella Robinson’s disgrace:

Soon after they met in Edinburgh, Combe examined Isabella’s skull. He informed her that she had an unusually large cerebellum, an organ found just above the hollow at the nape of the neck. The cerebellum, he explained, was the seat of Amativeness, or sexual love.

George Combe, natural philosopher and Edinburgh sage, was Scotland’s – possibly Britain’s – leading phrenologist. Men, he noted, had larger cerebella than women, ‘discernible in their thicker necks, just as highly sexed animals such as rams, bulls and pigeons had fatter necks than other creatures’. And in men too a more than usually thick neck could lead to problems:

Another of Combe’s subjects, the nine-year-old prince of Wales, had a similarly shaped skull: when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert consulted the phrenologist about the upbringing of their children, he observed that the young prince’s ‘Amativeness is large and I suspect will soon give trouble’. Combe’s own amative region, he said, was small – he had not known the ‘wild freshness of morning’, even in his youth.

(LRB 11 October 2012)

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