The Pocket Lavater Published

"The Pocket Lavater; Or, the Science of Physiognomy" was written by Giambattista della Porta and Johann Caspar Lavater and was originally published in 1817. This manual enabled people to carry a physiognomic guidebook around with them, thus being able to make interpretations and judgments wherever they may be. Physiognomy is the studying of a person's facial features or expressions in order to assess their character or personality. Because of the research of Johann Caspar Lavater, the practice became very popular in Europe during the 1800s, as he regarded it as "a way to access the invisible internal through the external and to provide additional information about the works of the Creator." Physiognomy helped people to understand the growing population and predict the character of others that they meet. Some that follow this pseudoscience believed they could use it to predict who may commit crimes or pose a threat to society, but this became an issue of personal bias. Unfortunately, physiognomy was used for racial stereotyping and oppression, and presented the risk of incriminating innocent people simply because they may possess facial features that suggest they are a criminal. Although physiognomy was largely supported by the scientific community, some scientists, such as Charles Darwin, were more skeptical and believed it to be too subjective. This is important to remember when reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, as Helen Huntingdon proclaims herself an "excellent physiognomist." Physiognomy is mentioned three times in the novel, and Helen uses her self-proclaimed skill to defend Arthur's name against her aunt's judgments.  Helen suggests to her aunt that she can tell he is a good man just lacking guidance, but she, in fact, read him incorrectly. 

Work Cited

Brontë, Anne. "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall." COVE Studio, 1847,

"Physiognomy in 19th Century Britain." Pagans & Witches, AminoApps, 26 March 2019,

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