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Feverish: Self-Induced Fever and the Creative Mind

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Version 2 2023-09-26, 23:55
Version 1 2021-11-15, 21:58
posted on 2023-09-26, 23:55 authored by Giovanna Fenster

This thesis is a hybrid work that combines the critical and creative components of the Creative Writing PhD in a novel, Feverish. It includes notes, an afterword, and a full bibliography.  Feverish is a novel narrated by Gigi, a writer who wishes to induce a fever in herself. The thesis aims to present more than a fictional account of a quest for fever. It aims, rather to travel with the mind of the protagonist. Gigi is not exclusively engaged in quest-related transactions in her present. Her interest in fever moves her to consider events from her past and her upbringing in Apartheid South Africa. It reminds her of a teenaged fascination with brain fever in Wuthering Heights. It prompts her to research fever-related aspects of psychiatric history and Jewish history. It drives her to research the law on consent to self-harm. As Gigi’s interest in fever leads her to these and other topics, so the thesis follows her, so the form adapts.  In both its form and its content, Feverish presents a view into a mind. It provides glimpses of the events that shaped the mind. It describes where the mind goes when in the single-minded grip of a quasi-fever. The novel contains strands of theory, memoir, creative non-fiction, ficto-criticism. These different forms are layered upon each other. At times they make way for each other. At times they assert themselves over each other.  In the notes at the end of the novel, the theoretical strand is at its most assertive. The notes present Gigi’s mind at its most critical, when it is directed at supporting the theoretical aspects of her quest. They support Gigi’s accounts of her research by providing additional information and citations.  The narrative arc is provided by a chronological account of the days Gigi devotes to her fever quest. What follows here is a skeleton account of the novel.  Feverish opens with a conversation between Gigi and a friend. This conversation spurs Gigi to explore brave artistic acts, and to the decision to induce a fever in herself. She remembers childhood holidays. Books, and in particular the nineteenth-century children’s literature that featured fever, are the focal point of these memories. Gigi recalls one particular holiday, taken at a time when a friend of hers, Simon, was just starting to show signs of mental illness.  Gigi starts planning her fever. She writes a ‘fever manifesto’. But she worries her siblings will think her insane. She remembers Alberto, a schizophrenic patient of her father’s for whom recovery had, according to his parents, been foretold.  Gigi’s husband, son and daughter are introduced. The family has a dinnertime discussion on bravery, anti-Semitism and terrorist attacks. Gigi starts researching fever. She imagines a conversation between her deceased father and Simon about Julius Wagner-Jauregg, a Nobel Prize-winning psychiatrist who induced malaria in patients suffering from neurosyphilis. Gigi’s father and Simon discuss an historic ‘showdown’ between Wagner-Jauregg and Freud. Gigi remembers Steve Biko’s death and her father’s aggressive response to a guest who supported Biko’s doctors.  Gigi is distracted from her research into fever by her son, who is vacuuming his room. She tells him a friend of hers is thinking of inducing a fever in herself. He explains the difference between fever and hyperthermia. Gigi realises that, to induce true fever, she will have to become ill. This prompts memories of the meningitis her brother suffered from as a child. Gigi uses Fildes’s famous painting, The Doctor as the starting point in an argument for a universal desire to be watched over in illness.  Gigi imagines a conversation she feels she ought to have had with her father, about (mental) illness in Wuthering Heights. They test the characters against each one’s ability to empathise with Catherine’s ‘brain fever’. Their discussion of Nelly’s status as servant prompts in Gigi the memory of a shameful childhood act.  A visit from a friend from law school prompts Gigi to research the law that could impact on her quest. She reviews case law relating to consent to self-harm, personal autonomy, and the boundaries of criminal law. Her research is interrupted by domestic concerns: her cat kills an endangered bird; her son writes a fever-related essay for school; she accompanies a friend in looking for her errant daughter.  At the end of the novel Gigi and her family confront a crisis. It becomes clear that Gigi is not the only family member unsettled by fever.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline

Creative Writing

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

International Institute of Modern Letters


Wilkins, Damien; Walls, Kathryn