Medicine and medical authority in three nineteenth-century novels.
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Smith, Rachel S. (Rachel Scotten)
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Three popular novels that span the nineteenth century—Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, and Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie—join then-contemporary conversations about medical reform. The novels explore the ethical ambiguities inherent in medical practice in the nineteenth century and question the nature of medical authority. In general, all three novels share a distrust of established medicine. In Hope Leslie, traditional, European medicine is denigrated and shown to be less efficacious than Native American medicine. This novel can be considered to be an argument for a national (American) medical system. In The Moonstone, the medical community’s indiscriminate use of opium is criticized. Ubiquitous opium-based preparations, like laudanum, are treated as ethically ambiguous and potentially dangerous. In Stoker’s Dracula, a “metaphysician” who treats both the body and soul is the most effective medical authority when dealing with nineteenth-century ailments that stubbornly retain moral associations.