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 and dramatic works by well-known writers of the period, such as Henrik Ibsen, but also author-medics such as Anton Chekhov and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Alongside fictional representations of medicine, we will also look at developments in surgery and in technology, in the form of the X-ray. Of central concern will be the representation of the doctor at a time of increasing professionalisation. We will consider fictional and non-fictional depictions of contemporary medical controversies, such as popular fears about contagion and infection (focusing upon two diseases that exorcised the Victorians: syphilis and tuberculosis), and how literature dealt with new medical and surgical technologies.

You will be able to enhance your reading and understanding of the period through access to the University Library’s digital databases which include Nineteenth Century British Library Newspapers, Nineteenth-Century Parliamentary Papers, and Nineteenth-Century UK Periodicals.  PubMed Central also contains the entire run of the British Medical Journal, to which we will also refer throughout the course. The texts you study will be supplemented by visual material.

Individual presentations will be an essential part of the course and will allow you to develop your own research interests.

Topics covered

  • Edward Berdoe, St Bernard’s: The Romance of a Medical Student (1887)
  • Anton Chekhov, Ivanov (1887) and A Life in Letters
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, Round the Red Lamp (1894) and Other Medical Writings
  • Henrik Ibsen, Ghosts (1881; performed in Britain, 1891)
  • George Bernard Shaw, The Doctor’s Dilemma (1906)


Weekly, two-hour seminars will introduce you to text and context. Individual presentations will be an essential part of the course and will allow you to develop your own research interests in the period.


  • Essay, 5,000 words (100%)


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