Studies in hypochondria

Year of award: 2019


  • William Rees

    University College London

Project summary

For centuries, hypochondria was deemed a fashionable, even desirable, disorder. Believed to be primarily a bodily condition which emanated from the abdomen (the ‘hypochondrium’), it was associated with affluence as well as intellectual, emotional and ethical refinement. Yet in the 19th century, hypochondria became increasingly viewed as a nervous or psychological condition. Suspicion grew and the hypochondriac became characterised as a malingerer and a leech on the limited resources of time, money, empathy and patience. 

Hypochondria has maintained a close relationship with literature and reading. By examining the works of hypochondriac writers, I will demonstrate how the hypochondriac has been one of the most astute and critical readers of the way society perceives and polices the boundary between wellness and illness. 

By showing how hypochondria is constructed in health-conscious, medicalised societies, I hope to improve our understanding of this common, persistent, yet poorly understood condition.