Medicine and Literature in the 19th Century

Module code: EN3155

Module co-ordinator: Dr Claire Brock

This interdisciplinary module will introduce you to a wide range of writing about medicine in the 19th century and how contemporary medical developments fascinated writers from a variety of genres. We will examine fictional works by well-known writers such as George Eliot as well as works by author-medics including Anton Chekhov and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the now less well-known but extremely popular Victorian novelist Charles Reade

Alongside fictional representations of medicine, we will look at the work of doctors such as William Acton, whose provocative pronouncements on prostitution emphasised the fine line between medical treatise and literary invention.

Of central concern will be representations of the doctor at a time of increasing professionalisation; the woman doctor, her supporters and detractors; fictional and non-fictional depictions of contemporary medical controversies, such as surgical anaesthesia; and the fight against disease through increasingly scientific medicine.

Topics covered

  • Mary Elizabeth Braddon: A Doctor‘s Wife (1864)
  • Wilkie Collins: Heart and Science (1883)
  • William Acton: Prostitution Considered in its Moral, Social and Sanitary Aspects, in London and Other Large Cities, with Proposals for the Mitigation and Prevention of its Attendant Evils (1857)
  • Anton Chekhov: Ivanov (1887) and A Life in Letters (Bartlett and Phillips, 2004)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle: Round the Red Lamp (1894) and other medical writings
  • Henrik Ibsen: Ghosts (1881; first performed in Britain in 1891)




  • Essay, 5,000 words (100%)