Diagnosis Literature I: Medical Narratives of Invalidism in the Nineteenth Century (Panel)


Global Anglophone / Interdisciplinary Humanities

Amanda Caleb (Misericordia University)

Medical narrative is a growing area of research across multiple disciplines; it is major component of a broader interest in the Medical and Health Humanities. Both medical professionals and humanities scholars have looked at medical narrative to individualize medical care and diagnosis and to give agency to patients as storytellers. This current trend toward medical narrative is a reaction against the late eighteenth-century development of medical knowledge, the doctor as the ultimate authority of the body, and the medical gaze. This proposed panel looks specifically at the long nineteenth-century, as it represents a period in which the medical profession was firmly establishing itself as a voice of authority and the medical gaze became the means of “seeing” and diagnosing patients, regardless of their reported illnesses—a prime example is the treatment of hysteria in women. This panel seeks to explore how medical narrative was used in nineteenth-century fiction and medical texts as a counterargument to the medical gaze, thereby rewriting the medical history of the period from the patient’s prospective. The use of medical narrative as a counter-current to the profession’s paternalism indicates the subversive nature of nineteenth-century literature and reinforces the value of storytelling and narrative within the “factual” world of medicine.

This panel seeks to explore the use of medical narrative in the long nineteenth-century in Britain and America as a counterargument to the medical gaze and the paternalism of the medical profession. Papers can address issues of patient agency, counter narratives to the medical profession (such as nursing memoirs), doctors as patients, storytelling as an act of subversion, public engagements with medical narrative, or any other topic that challenges the medical gaze of the nineteenth century. Papers exploring both fictional and nonfictional texts are encouraged.