Medical Women and Victorian Fiction

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Overview

In Medical Women and Victorian Fiction, Kristine Swenson explores the cultural intersections of fiction, feminism, and medicine during the second half of the nineteenth century in Britain and her colonies by looking at the complex and reciprocal relationship between women and medicine in Victorian culture. Her examination centers around two distinct though related figures: the Nightingale nurse and the New Woman doctor. The medical women in the fiction of Elizabeth Gaskell (Ruth), Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White), Dr. Margaret Todd (Mona McLean, Medical Student), Hilda Gregg (Peace with Honour), and others are analyzed in relation to nonfictional discussions of nurses and women doctors in medical publications, nursing tracts, feminist histories, and newspapers.
Victorian anxieties over sexuality, disease, and moral corruption came together most persistently around the figure of a prostitute. However, Swenson takes as her focus for this volume an opposing figure, the medical woman, whom Victorians deployed to combat these social ills. As symbols of traditional female morality informed and transformed by the new social and medical sciences, representations of medical women influenced public debate surrounding women’s education and employment, the Contagious Diseases Acts, and the health of the empire.
At the same time, the presence of these educated, independent women, who received payment for performing tasks traditionally assigned to domestic women or servants, inevitably altered the meaning of womanhood and the positions of other women in Victorian culture. Swenson challenges more conventional histories of the rise of the actual nurse and the woman doctor by treating as equally important the development of cultural representations of these figures.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Swenson's elaborate and carefully constructed links among her topics make this an informative and compelling study. Medical Women and Victorian Fiction is an original contribution to our knowledge of the period. A highly original and exceptionally well researched work."--Linda M. Lewis

"This book will contribute to the ongoing work on Victorian feminism, New Women writers, and approaches to gender and British imperialism. The research is solid, and readings of the novels are consistently interesting and provocatively linked."--Annette Federico

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826215666
  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2004
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Kristine Swenson is Associate Professor of English at the University of Missouri–Rolla.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : medical women old and new 1
Ch. 1 Angels of mercy 13
Ch. 2 Nightmare figures : backlash against the new nurse 52
Ch. 3 Sex and fair play : establishing the woman doctor 85
Ch. 4 The new woman doctor novel 123
Ch. 5 Medical women and imperial fiction 161
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