Title

Gothic Medicine: Murderous Midwives and Homicidal Obstetricians

Campus

Gainesville

Publication date

11-2018

Publisher

Edinburgh University Press

Book or Journal Information

Gothic Studies, vol. 20, nos. 1-2, pp. 227-243

Keywords

Obstetrics, midwifery, Gothic novel, William Smellie, William Hunter, Warming Pan Scandal

Abstract

Ever since the publication of Frankenstein, the Gothic has been read as an expression of the fears associated with scientific, technological, and medical advances. The scholarship in this area, however, does not address the reproductive sciences. This essay argues that obstetrical medicine is the most Gothic of medical pursuits. The professionalization of obstetrics over the course of the eighteenth century reads like a Gothic novel—subterraneous passages, hidden secrets, and the monstrous. This essay discusses the parallels between the Gothic and several fictional and quasi-fictional accounts of obstetrical “stories”—the Warming Pan Scandal of 1688; infamous characters such as Cheshire Cheese midwife; the work of Scottish obstetrician William Smellie; and the work of William Hunter, author of Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus (1774). Reproductive medicine fanned the flames of the Gothic then and continues to now as the genre continues remake itself in response to the changing reproductive landscape.

Author Biography

Diana Edelman is Associate Professor of English at the University of North Georgia, Gainesville. Edelman specializes in the Gothic, British Romanticism, and literature and medicine. Her monograph, Embryology and the Rise of the Gothic Novel, is forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan as part of their Literature, Science and Medicine series.

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Gothic Medicine: Murderous Midwives and Homicidal Obstetricians

Ever since the publication of Frankenstein, the Gothic has been read as an expression of the fears associated with scientific, technological, and medical advances. The scholarship in this area, however, does not address the reproductive sciences. This essay argues that obstetrical medicine is the most Gothic of medical pursuits. The professionalization of obstetrics over the course of the eighteenth century reads like a Gothic novel—subterraneous passages, hidden secrets, and the monstrous. This essay discusses the parallels between the Gothic and several fictional and quasi-fictional accounts of obstetrical “stories”—the Warming Pan Scandal of 1688; infamous characters such as Cheshire Cheese midwife; the work of Scottish obstetrician William Smellie; and the work of William Hunter, author of Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus (1774). Reproductive medicine fanned the flames of the Gothic then and continues to now as the genre continues remake itself in response to the changing reproductive landscape.