The life of a secular society was closely connected with literature, a fashionable fad in which romanticism was at that time. The female character, in addition to family relations, traditional home education (only a few went to the Smolny Institute), was formed due to romantic literature. We can say that the secular woman of the Pushkin era was created by books. The novels were some kind of self-instruction manuals for a woman of that time, they formed a new female ideal image, which, like a fashion for new outfits, was followed by both the capital and provincial noble ladies. The female ideal of the 18th century - bursting with health, stout, full of beauty - is replaced by a pale, dreamy, sad woman of romanticism "with a French book in her hands, with a sad thought in her eyes." In order to look fashionable, the girls tormented themselves with hunger, did not go out in the sun for months. Tears and fainting were in vogue. Real life, like health, childbirth, motherhood, seemed "vulgar", "unworthy" of a true romantic girl. P.S. Women wore corsets, in which it was impossible to breathe. So it turned out that from any more or less experience - everyone with oxygen starvation fainted. Well, men ... I don't know. They were probably more infantile. These are not novels about raw Russian men.
Feelings are one of the ways of manifesting stereotypes of society, so it is not entirely correct to call it fashion. Rather, it is an expression of certain qualities that must be viewed strictly from a historical perspective.
Sensitivity became fashionable in Europe around the seventeenth century. Pierre Bourdieu wrote that feelings are part of the symbolic and cultural capital. Manners, aesthetic preferences and tone are the signs with which a person asserts himself in a particular social status.
Yes, increased sensitivity in a certain historical period was considered an attribute of a highly spiritual person. Surely everyone knows the humoral theory: the content of this or that fluid in the body is responsible for the character. Michel Foucault proposed to reverse this statement. These strong feelings needed a physiological explanation. This also brought a practical aspect to the sensitivity. Shackled by conventions and etiquette, people of the past needed an excuse for spree, tantrums, and occasional fainting. And then everything could be blamed on weltshmerz or spleen.
At the same time, it is also important who fainted: a man or a woman. In Gender and Melancholy, Juliana Schierasi points out that glamorous melancholy, when transformed into unpresentable hysteria, changes sex. A sensitive man is an elite, a sensitive woman is a hysterical woman. At the same time, the man had the right to remain courageous, creative and sophisticated and at the same time cultivate the feminine principle in himself (insert a joke about the "inner goddess" here). Women's sensitivity, which later became absolutized into the stereotype "all women are hysterics", just reached its peak in the 19th century, when tension in women's society began to boil. As a result, we got a feminist theory. What is good.
Each time has its own strictly measured repertoire of feelings, which are determined by time, norms and social environment. In the 18th century, vulnerability was in vogue, in the 19th century self-control, in the 20th century passion was elevated into a cult. Each era has its own sensory code, which is considered natural within this era.
With regard to literature, this is even more relevant, because such hypersensitive characters are more interesting than those who always behave the same. They leave room for internal conflict, and easily change the direction of the scene. And if we touch upon specific persons like Dostoevsky, then his very religious ethics presupposes a certain ecstasy.
As for fainting, there is a version that tightened corsets contributed to them. The organs of the abdominal cavity and chest were compressed, blood circulation slowed down, the amount of oxygen consumed decreased, due to which the girls often experienced dizziness and other unpleasant phenomena up to loss of consciousness.
And about any diseases "on the basis of nerves" another, feminist version. At that time, women did not have the same social status as men and were, rather, closer to children. Direct expression of their dissatisfaction was not encouraged, so they had to invent all sorts of tricks like non-existent diseases in order to somehow declare themselves and attract attention. Now it is called psychosomatics.
Up to the beginning of the XX century, there was such a diagnosis as "hysteria". This is exactly the same "rabies of the uterus" (from the Greek. "Istera" - uterus). Only women suffered from this strange disease, and it was expressed in inappropriate behavior, screams, bouts of rage, demonstrative emotional reactions (tears, laughter), etc. (By the way, don't you find any modern analogies?) It was believed that all this was caused by the wandering of the uterus through the body, and they tried to heal by immersing a woman in cold water and other similar procedures. Now no "hysteria" is diagnosed, this "diagnosis" has ceased to exist due to its ambiguity and a number of disorders have disintegrated, attention! existing in both men and women. So why was hysteria considered a female "disease"? Because it was not so much a disease as a way to express your dissatisfaction in conditions when it was impossible to do it in a direct form. If now a woman can say, “Dear, didn’t you mislead me?”, Then in the 19th century it was necessary to stage a performance in which the women themselves partly believed. What is now expressed by the words "So, everything is enough, you have to quit (get divorced, sell a car, move out from your parents, go on vacation to the sea, etc.)", earlier I had to bring it up in roundabout ways - "Oh, my nerves are shattered ... urgent treatment is needed ... in a boarding house ... oh leave me / wave at me / blow on me / bring me water ... ". Many people do this even now, both women and men, but on a smaller scale, because there are many ways to legally communicate your needs without causing pity or attention.