Victorians! discussion

250 views
Conversations in the Parlor > Medicine/ Science in Victorian novels

Comments Showing 1-50 of 59 (59 new)    post a comment »
« previous 1

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 604 comments I recall reading a Victorian novel once which had a 75-page digression from the plot for a lecture on why women should be allowed to be doctors.

Think it was by Charles Reade; probably A Woman-Hater.


message 2: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain is a fascinating study of a European health spa.


message 3: by Joanna (new)

Joanna (joannamauselina) | 14 comments The Magic Mountain is so compelling that when I was reading the bit where they were eating a delicious chocolate cake (described over several pages, if I recall correctly,) I was suffused with desire for a chocolate cake. It was one in the morning, but I jumped on my bike, went to the all night grocery and got one. I ate the whole thing, and my family never had a suspicion. (It was pretty small, fortunately.) Later, a week or so after finishing the book, I suddenly developed pneumonia and was in the hospital for a week. Now that is a sign of powerful writing.


message 4: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Joanna wrote: "The Magic Mountain is so compelling that when I was reading the bit where they were eating a delicious chocolate cake (described over several pages, if I recall correctly,) I was suffused with desi..."

Either powerful writing or a bad chocolate cake! But yes, Mann is indeed a powerful writer. Unfortunately Magic Mountain was written in 1924, so isn't eligible for reading here, but Buddenbrooks was written in 1901, so would just squeak in under the wire. Will one of us remember to nominate it the next time nominations open?


message 5: by Joanna (new)

Joanna (joannamauselina) | 14 comments Buddenbrooks is a wonderful book, and I think, the most accessible of his "big" novels.


message 6: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Murphy One of the fascinating things to me about science and Victorian America was how scientific ideas were rejected because of Victorian moral principals. In Sympathy and Science, the author Regina Moratz-Sanchez discusses how the germ theory of disease was rejected by religious doctors because health, beauty, and wealth were signs of God's favor, and illness was a comment on someone's moral standing (not a matter of hand washing). It was quite a fight between physicians of the time. I wonder what scientific principals we reject these days because of prejudices we can't quite see through. Lisa


message 7: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Murphy Yes, and THE WOMEN WANTED IT THAT WAY! That, too, is amazing. The morality was such that they'd rather DIE than have a man touch them. So ... women physicians became the way society was going to save it's morality and keep women healthy and pure. We docs snuck in on the coattails of prudism. So odd, the pioneers being also the keepers of the old flame. Lisa


message 8: by Scott (new)

Scott | 92 comments Saying that illness is divine punishment is so twisted . Didn 't anyone read the bible story where the disciples ask Jesus if a man was blinded for his sins or his parents . Jesus replied: "neither, god will be glorified".
This attitude is similar to Andrew carnigie justifying his reduction of steelworkers wages because the almighty destined them to be low paid so that steel could sell at a reasonable price.
On a lighter note, my maternal grandmother received arrival degree at a small Minnesota school in 1893, on the promise to become a missionary. Instead, she went to San Francisco, serving in a hospital during the earthquake of 1903


message 9: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 66 comments Joanna wrote: "The Magic Mountain is so compelling that when I was reading the bit where they were eating a delicious chocolate cake (described over several pages, if I recall correctly,) I was suffused with desi..."

this makes me want to read the book and eat chocolate cake! haha!


message 10: by Kristen (last edited Jun 07, 2011 05:31PM) (new)

Kristen | 66 comments Anna wrote: "This topic is coming from two places. I recently attended a Victorian popular fiction conference where I saw a presentation by a physicist (yes a physicist) who is researching representations of sc..."

there is alot of this in Dostoevksy's The Idiot, which of course is Russian and therefore, not Victorian, but i remember thinking it very strange as well that Myshkin, the epileptic protagonist, was thought stupid and prone to moods. i've noticed quite a few russian novels have scenes where the characters come down with "brain fever".


message 11: by LauraT (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 495 comments The Magic Mountain is definilty a powerfull novel, but in parts difficoult to read. The Buddenbrooks is more enjoyable, at least to my taste!
Susanna wrote: I recall reading a Victorian novel once which had a 75-page digression from the plot for a lecture on why women should be allowed to be doctors.
Think it was by Charles Reade; probably A Woman-Hater.

I'd like to give a look at it Susanna!!! My mom was a doctor, and her father didn't want her to study medicine: Literature is a fitter subject for a woman he said! She insisted though, and she's been a great doctor, to hear a lot of her patients ...


message 12: by Alex (new)

Alex They do seem to be obsessed with medicine in the latter half of the 19th, huh? Madame Bovary and Middlemarch both contain significant passages about the debate between - to oversimplify - science and leeches.

What I actually came here to ask is: Where's Darwin? Origin of Species is published in 1859; I had understood it to be major headline news and a source of furious debate. I would expect some of the blowhards in Middlemarch to toss it around a bit during one of their arguments, at least. But as yet I haven't seen a single mention in any of the (admittedly limited) post-1959 Vic books I've read.

Can anyone think of any novels that do deal with the theory of evolution?


message 13: by Gary (new)

Gary Inbinder | 69 comments In Turgenev's "Fathers and Sons" one main character is a medical student and his father is a retired military surgeon. As I recall, there are several references to science and the medical practices of the period (ca. 1860) and that contributes to the novel's theme of generational conflict.


message 14: by Alex (new)

Alex I've read The Island of Dr. Moreau since I posted this question; without mentioning Darwin, I think Wells is talking about him and seems to get him. And that book is a pretty neat little thing, actually.

Still looking for others though. There was an enormous debate over whether Darwin was hard science or not; it was headline news, as far as I know. I just figured a few more authors would tackle it.


message 15: by Gary (new)

Gary Inbinder | 69 comments The "Island of Dr. Moreau", "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," "The Time Machine," et. al. deal with the Post-Darwinian idea of "devolution", or the possible future decline of humanity. As far as I know, Bulwer-Lytton's "The Coming Race" (1871) may be the earliest of a long line of futuristic dystopian novels where humanity declines into the ineffectual (H.G. Wells' Eloi) and the brutal(the Morlocks).

The Victorians were familiar with the well-publicized debate concerning evolution (1860)between Thomas Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce, in which the Bishop "begged to know" whether it was through his grandfather or grandmother that Huxley claimed his descent from a monkey. Huxley's sharp reply to the ad hominem attack was thought to have won the debate on points, while leaving the question of Darwin's theory open for further questioning and discussion.


message 16: by Alex (new)

Alex Ah, thanks for that syllabus Anna. Nice work there. Interesting to see Zola...maybe I'll give him a look.

I feel like if Jekyll & Hyde dealt with evolution it was pretty vaguely; I've read that in the last couple of years.

Looking forward to Time Machine though. Seems like Wells was really engaging. In fact, I'm gonna put that in my backpack right now and read it while camping this weekend. Because I have evolved into a being who thinks camping in a hurricane is a good idea. No, don't worry, I'm bringing plenty of beer.

Gary, thanks...have you read "The Coming Race"? I too am familiar with the Huxley / Wilberforce debate, which is terrifically fun stuff. Huxley was an ass, if I remember right, but a little bit awesome anyway.


message 17: by Gary (new)

Gary Inbinder | 69 comments Alex wrote: "Ah, thanks for that syllabus Anna. Nice work there. Interesting to see Zola...maybe I'll give him a look.

I feel like if Jekyll & Hyde dealt with evolution it was pretty vaguely; I've read that i..."


I haven't read "The Coming Race" but I've read about it, and it sounds quite interesting. Most people just think of Bulwer-Lytton as the author who began a novel with the sentence: "It was a dark and stormy night."

I have read Zola, including "La Bete Humaine". The title is usually translated "The Human Animal" or "The Beast in Man." It's the story of a psychotic murderer who happens to be an engine driver.

Zola's Naturalism and his "scientific" examination of character certainly owed something to Darwin. In addition, I found Zola's vivid descriptions of late nineteenth railways fascinating, and a good source for my own Neo-Victorian writings.


message 18: by Gary (last edited Aug 26, 2011 09:48AM) (new)

Gary Inbinder | 69 comments Anna wrote: "Gary wrote: "The "Island of Dr. Moreau", "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," "The Time Machine," et. al. deal with the Post-Darwinian idea of "devolution", or the possible future decline of humanity. As far..."

Anna, I haven't read "The Coming Race" but I've read about it, and it sounds interesting. See also my answer to Alex above.


message 19: by Alex (new)

Alex Weird, I was just wondering who wrote that, like, yesterday. (Because it was indeed a dark and stormy night.)

Too bad it's not a decent book; it'd be kinda fun to read it.


message 20: by Deanne (new)

Deanne | 83 comments Gary
I've read The Coming Race,wasn't as good as I believed it to be, a lot of description about the subterranean world and it's inhabitants. Evolutionary with reguard to physical perfection and technological advance.
There seems to be an idea that with advancement comes emotional detachment, a loss of empathy and logical thinking.
Read The Coming Race because I wondered what one of the first science fiction books would be like. Prefer Wells as a storyteller.


message 21: by Gary (new)

Gary Inbinder | 69 comments Thanks for the info, Deanne. I suppose the main interest in "The Coming Race" is its early date (1871) and influence on later works, especially "The Time Machine." And I guess most readers would prefer H. G. Wells to Bulwer-Lytton. ;)


message 22: by Alex (new)

Alex Gary wrote: "Thanks for the info, Deanne. I suppose the main interest in "The Coming Race" is its early date (1871) and influence on later works, especially "The Time Machine.""

Which is a pretty good reason for interest, and I might tackle it just for that. It's so fun to read early science fiction like Mary Shelley's (unfortunately not all that good) The Last Man, and a bunch of Verne and Wells.

Looking into Coming Race led me to The Hollow Earth which sounds super fun - an Antarctic voyage with Edgar Allen Poe? Yes please! - but it's gotten some pretty crap reviews from people here.


message 23: by Gary (new)

Gary Inbinder | 69 comments Alex wrote: "Gary wrote: "Thanks for the info, Deanne. I suppose the main interest in "The Coming Race" is its early date (1871) and influence on later works, especially "The Time Machine.""

Which is a pretty ..."


Alex, an interesting reference to Mary Shelley's "The Last Man." It's another early example of SF that's more notable for its theme, rather than the writing. But her "Frankenstein" is a masterpiece, and a good deal different from most of the movies. I did quite a bit of research on Mary Shelley for my first published novel, "Confessions of the Creature," a re-imagined sequel to Frankenstein from the monster's perspective.


message 24: by Alex (new)

Alex Yeah, agreed on all counts Gary. Frankenstein is one of my very favorite books ever, so I had awfully high hopes for Last Man. Thematically, it's as daring as Frankenstein is, but she coulda used an editor.

I picked up this edition a while back that has Mary's original draft plus Percy's revisions. I haven't read the thing yet because I'd just re-read Frankenstein when I found it, and I didn't feel like doing it again so soon, but...cool, huh?


message 25: by Gary (new)

Gary Inbinder | 69 comments Alex wrote: "Yeah, agreed on all counts Gary. Frankenstein is one of my very favorite books ever, so I had awfully high hopes for Last Man. Thematically, it's as daring as Frankenstein is, but she coulda used a..."

While researching my novel, I read that Percy provided editing, comments and suggestions for "Frankenstein" on a daily basis. He also wrote the preface to the first edition in Mary's voice, which led to some insinuations that he had written the novel.

Back in the 1980's there were three films (Haunted Summer, Rowing With the Wind, and Gothic) about the circumstances surrounding the writing of "Frankenstein," and the Mary, Percy, Byron, Dr. Polidori,(author of a novel that inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula) Claire Clairmont, (Mary's half-sister and one of Byron's mistresses) relationship. Those relationships are also referenced in the film, "Frankenstein Unbound."

BTW, a story about the elderly Claire Clairmont was the inspiration for the Henry James novella, "The Aspern Papers."


message 26: by Alex (new)

Alex Did not know that about Claire Clairmont. Interesting.

And have you read Polidor's story, by the way? I've always wanted to. Totally gonna get around to that someday. Dracula's Guest and other Victorian Vampire Stories has it. In fact...there, ordered. Hooray for used books on Amazon.

Were any of those three films good? I love that whole Villa Deodati thing - the two literary places I'd most like to visit are that and wherever Boccaccio's characters pretended to write the Decameron - so I'd totally watch one of them if it didn't suck.


message 27: by Gary (new)

Gary Inbinder | 69 comments Alex wrote: "Did not know that about Claire Clairmont. Interesting.

And have you read Polidor's story, by the way? I've always wanted to. Totally gonna get around to that someday. [book:Dracula's Guest and ot..."


I haven't read Polidori's story. It's probably of more interest historically than as literature. Byron certainly didn't think much of his ex-friend's writing, and he mocked it in a very nasty, but funny poem.

The films are interesting, although I think only one of them (Gothic) was actually filmed at the Villa Deodati. But I could be wrong. One of the films was based on a novel, Anne Edwards' "Haunted Summer" that probably contributed to a revived interest in Mary Shelley, and Gothic fiction in general.

All the films concentrate, to a greater or lesser extent, on the sex and drugs aspect. I think Ken Russell's "Gothic" goes over the top in that regard. Every scene seems like a drug induced hallucination.


message 28: by Alex (last edited Aug 29, 2011 12:12PM) (new)

Alex Oh, so I get to see the Villa Deodati and also boobs? Sold!

Just finished Time Machine. It does certainly engage clearly with Darwin, even namechecking him (in the middle of a hopelessly wrong guess about what happens to the sun eventually, of all things), and it's just as much fun as Dr. Moreau. I love Wells.


message 29: by Deanne (last edited Aug 29, 2011 01:18PM) (new)

Deanne | 83 comments Live not far from Newstead Abbey, Byron's home keep meaning to visit the place.
Love Frankenstein but hadn't heard of The Last Man.

Mentions of asylums and Bram Stoker made me think of Dracula's side kick Renfield, eater of insects.
There's also The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, the plot revolving around putting someone in an asylum.
When I was a student nurse we were given accommodation at St Augustine's hospital outside Canterbury, England. The hospital was a huge Victorian psychiatric hospital which used to house about 3000 patients. The farms were worked by patients years earlier until it was decided that was slave labour and the patients were then kept locked in the wards.
By the time I lived in the nurses home in the early 1990's the hospital was being closed and had only 150 patients. The bus used to stop at the front entrance and then you had to walk through the hospital and out of a back entrance before crossing the lawns. Sometimes you didn't see anyone, and it was sad to see the deserted buildings.
Lots of the patients were elderly and had been there for years, people were sectioned for being epileptic, having illegitimate children and for any number of reasons depending on their family and how much influence they had. My personal idea of hell, a psychiatric hospital in the Victorian times.
St Augustine's was closed but parts of it were listed, and eventually it was turned into apartments.
I've seen the series Bedlam and I'm not sure I'd want to live somewhere that used to be an asylum.


message 30: by Alex (new)

Alex Yeah, asylums in the 19th century were pretty terrible places, huh? Wasn't there an expose of the conditions inside them written at some point?

The Woman in White is a terrific book.

Maybe the reality was different, but it sounds incredibly cool to get to live in an old asylum for a while. Was it super creepy?


message 31: by Deanne (new)

Deanne | 83 comments Alex
Some parts were creepy, and it was out in the Kent countryside, the nearest pub was a mile walk down the road from the hospital main doors to the main gates. At the moment I work in a hospital in the operating rooms, sometimes this means doing a standby and sleeping on site. The standby rooms are old patient rooms off of a disused ward. Plus there are the usual stories associated with any hospital.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 604 comments In America, the big crusader for the better treatment of the insane was Dorothea Dix.


message 33: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Has it already been mentioned in this threat that Middlemarch offers a very accurate representation of medical science in the early Victorian years? Eliot did a great deal of research for the book, and has her facts straight.


message 34: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Science in this time is very interesting. An interest in the natural world, the creation of cabinets of curiosity, questioning how things worked. If you are interested in some of the science of crime solving of the time, The Alienist by Caleb Carr (modern fiction) has some nice touches in it.

Eman is correct in that Eliot did a great deal of research for Middlemarch and accurately captures her time period as well as the changes she was experiencing.


message 35: by Alex (new)

Alex Quite a bit of that in Madame Bovary too, right?

And there's some biology in Moby-Dick, as Melville proves empirically that a) whales are fishes and b) it's completely impossible to overfish them. OOPS DUDE.


message 36: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Alex - I have to say I love your posts. They make great points, plus make me smile.


message 37: by Alex (new)

Alex Aw, thanks Deborah!


message 38: by Scott (new)

Scott | 92 comments Lisa wrote: "One of the fascinating things to me about science and Victorian America was how scientific ideas were rejected because of Victorian moral principals. In Sympathy and Science, the author Regina Mora..."


message 39: by Scott (new)

Scott | 92 comments I would like to know where these Victorians got their ideas from. Jesus and his disciples once saw a blind man. They asked Jesus: " Is he blind because of his own sins or his father's?"
Jesus answered: "Neither. He is blind so that God might be glorified.
Why couldn't Victorian doctors see illness this way ?


message 40: by Scott (new)

Scott | 92 comments Anna wrote: "@Scott- I am fascinated by stories about women who did the impossible (got an education, became a doctor etc) before it was legal or socially acceptable! Did your grandmother keep a diary or letter..."


message 41: by Scott (new)

Scott | 92 comments No, she did not. Once she married, she no longer practiced medicine. Later in life, she told my mother that women should never been given the right to vote.


message 42: by Alex (new)

Alex Scott wrote: "Neither. He is blind so that God might be glorified. "

Not that that's totally medically sound either.


message 43: by Scott (new)

Scott | 92 comments Anna wrote: "It seems like there was a shift in the mid-late 19th century where we started moving to a more modern idea of medicine. In Thou Art the Man, the epileptic character describes his disease the way I ..."


message 44: by Scott (new)

Scott | 92 comments The discovery of lithium as a treatment for epilepse and other neural disorders came at the very end of the Victorian era; too late to help many geniuses, such as Vincent Van Gogh.


message 45: by Scott (new)

Scott | 92 comments Kristen wrote: "Anna wrote: "This topic is coming from two places. I recently attended a Victorian popular fiction conference where I saw a presentation by a physicist (yes a physicist) who is researching represen..."


message 46: by Scott (new)

Scott | 92 comments William Cowper, a friend of Victorian hymn writer John Newton, was described as having 'melancholy', a disease often attributed, in Victorian times, as the result of bad parenting. However, the people of his parish knew better, since he was the son of the local vicar. Whenever he started to talk about suicide, the parish would take up a collection and send him to a nearby 'rest hoome', where he was given TLC and camomile tea until he calmed down and could return to Olney, England, where he tended the village garden and callaborated with Newton to write the 300+ 'Olney Hymns", including "Amazing Grace" and "God Works in Many Mystrious Ways".


message 47: by Scott (new)

Scott | 92 comments Susanna wrote: "In America, the big crusader for the better treatment of the insane was Dorothea Dix."


message 48: by Scott (new)

Scott | 92 comments I went to school at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, Iowa,; which is down the road from the hospital that Dix established in New London. Pyschology students called it 'the east campus'.


message 49: by Scott (new)

Scott | 92 comments Alex wrote: "Quite a bit of that in Madame Bovary too, right?

And there's some biology in Moby-Dick, as Melville proves empirically that a) whales are fishes and b) it's completely impossible to overfish them...."



message 50: by Scott (new)

Scott | 92 comments I doubt if even HG Wells could foresee what today's technology can do to nature.


« previous 1
back to top