Science, Medicine and Culture in the Nineteenth Century Seminars in Hilary Term 2018

Galton Inquiries 1883Our programme for Hilary Term 2018 is now announced with three seminars at St Anne’s College.

Drinks will be served after each seminar. All welcome, no booking is required.

Tuesday 30 January 2018 (Week 3)

Professor Oliver Zimmer, University of Oxford

Time Tribes: How the Railways Made Communities (1840-1900)

5.30—7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College

When it comes to modern loyalties, scholars of various disciplines have predominantly looked at class, profession, region or nation. While these no doubt represent important sources of identity, in the long nineteenth century TIME emerged as a significant source of individual and collective self-definition. Increasingly, how people related to and made use of their own time marked out their actual and desired status. Time, that most elusive of matters, became instrumental for the making and unmaking of communities that sometimes transcended regional and national contexts. Much of this can be attributed to the railways and the temporal innovations they facilitated, above all standard time and railway timetables. This paper approaches the phenomenon in question – time tribes – through an investigation of British and German railway passengers.

 

Tuesday 13 February 2018 (Week 5)

Dr Ryan Sweet, University of Leeds

Normalcy Interrogated: Prosthetic Hand Users in Victorian Sensation-Fiction Narratives

5.30—7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College

The nineteenth century is often celebrated as a period of great innovation in artificial limbs. Not only did the century see tremendous developments in surgical practice, meaning that more amputees survived amputation and more survived with serviceable stumps able to support prosthetic limbs, but an attitude was also cultivated that increasingly privileged physical “normalcy”. As the concept of the “normal” body was constructed by contexts such as the emergence of bodily statistics, the growth of sciences that equated physical appearances with particular character traits, and changes in Poor Law legislation, it became more important than ever before for individuals to conceal bodily losses in order to avoid the stigma attached to physical difference. An emerging profession of prosthesis makers cashed in on both this growing consumer market and wider taste for physical “wholeness”—an explicit constituent of “normalcy”—by producing sophisticated artificial limbs designed to conceal limb loss (aesthetically and functionally). The products of the most successful of these limb makers, such as A. A. Marks and Frederick Gray, were celebrated by journalists and advocates on both sides of the Atlantic. In spite of such high spirits surrounding the achievements of artificial limbs, literary representations of prostheses tended to be more critical of both the efficacy of and logic underpinning such devices. Two examples of a texts that complicated the developing hegemony of physical “wholeness”—as well as the importance placed on concealing physical difference—were the sensation-fiction short stories “Lady Letitia’s Lilliput Hand” (1862) by Robert William Buchanan and “Prince Rupert’s Emerald Ring” (1895) by T. Lockhart. In this talk, I will argue that texts such as these challenged the status quo by presenting sensory critiques of hand prostheses and questioning the demand for them to enable users to “pass” as “normal”.

 

Tuesday 27 February 2018 (Week 7)

Dr Jana Funke, University of Exeter

‘Sexo-Aesthetic Inversion’: Transgender Subjectivities in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Literature and Science

5.30—7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College

Much scholarship on the history of sexual science in relation to trans history has tended to focus on two related areas of sexological activity: the invention of diagnostic categories to produce fixed and stable identities, and the development of surgical and hormonal technologies to alter the physical appearance of trans bodies over the course of the 1920s and 1930s. As a result, sexual science is mainly remembered for implementing a medicalized framework that produced rigid diagnostic labels and put emphasis on the physical or somatic aspects of trans experience. This paper presents an alternative account of the relation between trans history and sexual science by focusing on a slightly earlier historical period, the decades between 1880 and 1920. At a time when surgical and hormonal interventions were not yet within immediate medical reach, understandings of what is nowadays described as trans identity emerged through sustained dialogue between scientific and literary writers who shared ideas concerning the role of Einfühlung (empathy), fantasy, dreams, the imagination and creativity in enabling an individual to experience and achieve cross-gender identification. Starting with British sexologist Havelock Ellis’s concept of ‘sexo-aesthetic inversion’ and Ellis’s exchange with modernist writer Bryher (Annie Winifred Ellerman) in the late 1910s, the paper works backwards to trace the intellectual roots of the scientific-literary framing of trans subjectivities. These include late nineteenth-century scientific studies of colour hearing, sense perception and aesthetics as well as works by literary authors like Olive Schreiner, Vernon Lee and William Sharp/Fiona Macleod to name but a few. Through its investigation of this earlier moment, the paper moves across the Victorian-Modernist divide to illuminate previously overlooked forms of exchange between literary and sexual scientific writings and to offer an alternative account of modern trans history.

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Now What? Surviving Serious Illness in the Nineteenth-Century

Krienke Bio Pic

Hosanna Krienke joined the project in December 2017. She researches convalescence and narrative in nineteenth-century Britain.

Writing in 1991, sociologist Arthur W. Frank declared that Western scientific medicine had created what he called “the remission society,” a growing number of patients whose lives were saved by medical treatment but who could not be considered cured. This remission society includes people who are cancer survivors, manage heart disease, or live with autoimmune disorders. Such conditions, which would have been fatal only a century ago, now can be managed successfully across many years. Yet such longevity also produces a new challenge for medical professionals and patients. While much of twentieth-century medicine single-mindedly pursued the ideal of full cures (for example, the misguided attempt to find a single cure for all cancers), Frank suggested that medicine of the twenty-first century would need to come to terms with a different kind of caregiving in which patients and physicians both learn to cope with open-ended treatment regimens and uncertainty about patients’ prognosis.

Girl and Dog

‘A young girl convalescing in an armchair is visited by her dog. Etching by H. Formstecher after H. Bacon.’ by Henry Bacon. Credit: Wellcome CollectionCC BY

While Frank imagined that the remission society is unique to today, my work reveals that this emerging medical culture has much to learn from nineteenth-century survivors of illness. I examine Victorian ideas of convalescence, a condition of ongoing recovery and extended uncertainty that followed serious illness. Frank posited that people in the remission society remain “neither ill nor completely well.”[1] Similarly, Victorian convalescents were, according to one physician, “in an intermediate state—neither ill, nor yet quite well.”[2] As I discover, Victorian physicians, philanthropists, writers, and domestic caregivers crafted a sustained ideology to deal with the stress of surviving acute illness. Convalescents faced a prolonged process of rehabilitation as they waited to see whether they would gradually improve, malinger, or relapse. The Victorians worked to alleviate the angst of convalescence both through personalized caregiving practices and unique interpretive strategies designed to make meaning within persistent uncertainty.

Weak but not ill, convalescents could no longer benefit from medical treatment. Nevertheless, Victorian writers, philanthropists, and caregivers concocted a whole range of ways to support the recuperating medical patient’s physical, mental and social well-being. Convalescent patients needed relaxation, fresh air, and hearty meals. They also needed healthful distractions, such as social visits, travel, and novels. “Even the outside of a new and interesting book,” one caregiving manual insisted, “which must not be read until permission is given, will have its beneficial effect.”[3] While nineteenth-century scientific medicine increasingly focused on disease processes within the body, convalescent ideology focused on improving the patient’s larger environment. Such changes, it was believed, could profoundly affect the course of patients’ recovery, potentially forestalling relapses, helping chronic conditions, and hastening full recovery.

Alongside practical benefits like leisure and nutrition, convalescent patients needed strategies for coping with the extended boredom, sudden relapses, and small gains of prolonged rehabilitation. Writing about his own recovery from a surgical amputation, the poet W.E. Henley bitterly complained, “Altogether convalescence is a trying period both for nurses and patients […] it is an uninteresting, unsympathetic, and uncomfortable probation.”[4] An entire genre of convalescent self-help manuals and religious devotionals sought to offer strategies to counteract the stress and uncertainty of convalescence. Most importantly, these texts advised against any attempt to predict the outcome of one’s convalescent care. One devotional manual counselled, “[R]esist fore-casting, and undue dwelling on results or consequences.”[5] Even positive conjectures could be hazardous “lest the dangerous hopes which convalescence brings with it should meet with disappointment.”[6] Instead of looking to the future for meaning, convalescents and their caregivers were supposed to track and analyse the complex social, physical, and mental factors at work on the patient’s ongoing recovery.

Convalescent Being Read to

‘A girl reads to a convalescent while a nurse brings in the patient’s medicine. Watercolour by R.H. Giles.’ by R.H. Giles. Credit: Wellcome CollectionCC BY

As a literary scholar, I examine the history of nineteenth-century convalescent care in order to identify how patients and caregivers narrated the experience of uncertainty. Ultimately, I use these historical narrative forms to better understand how readers can engage with the prolonged uncertainty of reading Victorian novels. My central question is this: if Victorian convalescents were meant to interpret their ongoing recovery without predicting potential outcomes, what would it mean for readers of Victorian novels (particularly novels that feature illness) to interpret an unfolding plot without reference to its ending?

If you have read many Victorian novels, you are already familiar with the timescale of convalescence. Readers are often asked to invest hours of reading-time in tracking the prolonged recuperations of say, Esther Summerson in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House or Lucy Snowe in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette. Many critics read such illness episodes as symbolic of the psychological obstacles these characters face. By contrast, my work reveals that Victorians valued the unique opportunities for reflection provided by the slow time of convalescence. Thus I want to apply the interpretive techniques of convalescent care to Victorian novels in order to recover the ethical value and interpretive meaning Victorian readers would have been trained to find within narratives of digression, boredom, and waiting.

But more than offering new readings of nineteenth-century texts, the history of Victorian convalescent culture can help guide current physicians and patients who are part of our modern remission society. Victorian convalescents spoke with great eloquence and insight about the frustrations—and opportunities—of living within prognostic uncertainty. Thus while Victorian convalescent practices have never before been described within scholarship on the history of medicine, I hope to demonstrate how the distinctive interpretive postures of the nineteenth-century convalescence movement are increasingly relevant to our historical moment as more and more people live with the uncertainty of a medical prognosis.

[1] Arthur W. Frank, At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness. Boston: Houghton Mifflin: 1991. 154.

[2] William Strange, MD, The Restoration of Health: Or, the application of the Laws of Hygiene to the Recovery of Health. London: Longmans, Green, 1865. 224.

[3] Edmund S. and Ellen J. Delamere, Wholesome Fare; or, The Doctor and the Cook. London: Lockwood & Co, 1868. 736-7. Original emphasis.

[4] W.E. Henley, “Convalescence.” Saturday Review. October 6, 1877. 418.

[5] Mary Ethel Granger, Life Renewed: A Manual for Convalescents Arranged for Daily Reading. London: Longmans, 1891. 70.

[6] George Black, Sick-Nursing: A Handbook for All Who Have to Do with Cases of Disease and Convalescence. London: n.p., 1888. 37.

Science, Medicine and Culture in the Nineteenth Century Seminars in Hilary Term 2018

Galton Inquiries 1883

Our programme for Hilary Term 2018 is now announced with three seminars at St Anne’s College.

Drinks will be served after each seminar. All welcome, no booking is required.

Tuesday 30 January 2018 (Week 3)

Professor Oliver Zimmer, University of Oxford

Time Tribes: How the Railways Made Communities (1840-1900)

5.30—7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College

When it comes to modern loyalties, scholars of various disciplines have predominantly looked at class, profession, region or nation. While these no doubt represent important sources of identity, in the long nineteenth century TIME emerged as a significant source of individual and collective self-definition. Increasingly, how people related to and made use of their own time marked out their actual and desired status. Time, that most elusive of matters, became instrumental for the making and unmaking of communities that sometimes transcended regional and national contexts. Much of this can be attributed to the railways and the temporal innovations they facilitated, above all standard time and railway timetables. This paper approaches the phenomenon in question – time tribes – through an investigation of British and German railway passengers.

 

Tuesday 13 February 2018 (Week 5)

Dr Ryan Sweet, University of Leeds

Normalcy Interrogated: Prosthetic Hand Users in Victorian Sensation-Fiction Narratives

5.30—7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College

The nineteenth century is often celebrated as a period of great innovation in artificial limbs. Not only did the century see tremendous developments in surgical practice, meaning that more amputees survived amputation and more survived with serviceable stumps able to support prosthetic limbs, but an attitude was also cultivated that increasingly privileged physical “normalcy”. As the concept of the “normal” body was constructed by contexts such as the emergence of bodily statistics, the growth of sciences that equated physical appearances with particular character traits, and changes in Poor Law legislation, it became more important than ever before for individuals to conceal bodily losses in order to avoid the stigma attached to physical difference. An emerging profession of prosthesis makers cashed in on both this growing consumer market and wider taste for physical “wholeness”—an explicit constituent of “normalcy”—by producing sophisticated artificial limbs designed to conceal limb loss (aesthetically and functionally). The products of the most successful of these limb makers, such as A. A. Marks and Frederick Gray, were celebrated by journalists and advocates on both sides of the Atlantic. In spite of such high spirits surrounding the achievements of artificial limbs, literary representations of prostheses tended to be more critical of both the efficacy of and logic underpinning such devices. Two examples of a texts that complicated the developing hegemony of physical “wholeness”—as well as the importance placed on concealing physical difference—were the sensation-fiction short stories “Lady Letitia’s Lilliput Hand” (1862) by Robert William Buchanan and “Prince Rupert’s Emerald Ring” (1895) by T. Lockhart. In this talk, I will argue that texts such as these challenged the status quo by presenting sensory critiques of hand prostheses and questioning the demand for them to enable users to “pass” as “normal”.

 

Tuesday 27 February 2018 (Week 7)

Dr Jana Funke, University of Exeter

‘Sexo-Aesthetic Inversion’: Transgender Subjectivities in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Literature and Science

5.30—7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College

Much scholarship on the history of sexual science in relation to trans history has tended to focus on two related areas of sexological activity: the invention of diagnostic categories to produce fixed and stable identities, and the development of surgical and hormonal technologies to alter the physical appearance of trans bodies over the course of the 1920s and 1930s. As a result, sexual science is mainly remembered for implementing a medicalized framework that produced rigid diagnostic labels and put emphasis on the physical or somatic aspects of trans experience. This paper presents an alternative account of the relation between trans history and sexual science by focusing on a slightly earlier historical period, the decades between 1880 and 1920. At a time when surgical and hormonal interventions were not yet within immediate medical reach, understandings of what is nowadays described as trans identity emerged through sustained dialogue between scientific and literary writers who shared ideas concerning the role of Einfühlung (empathy), fantasy, dreams, the imagination and creativity in enabling an individual to experience and achieve cross-gender identification. Starting with British sexologist Havelock Ellis’s concept of ‘sexo-aesthetic inversion’ and Ellis’s exchange with modernist writer Bryher (Annie Winifred Ellerman) in the late 1910s, the paper works backwards to trace the intellectual roots of the scientific-literary framing of trans subjectivities. These include late nineteenth-century scientific studies of colour hearing, sense perception and aesthetics as well as works by literary authors like Olive Schreiner, Vernon Lee and William Sharp/Fiona Macleod to name but a few. Through its investigation of this earlier moment, the paper moves across the Victorian-Modernist divide to illuminate previously overlooked forms of exchange between literary and sexual scientific writings and to offer an alternative account of modern trans history.