Literature and Medicine in Nineteenth-Century Britain from Mary Shelley to George Eliot by Janis McLarren Caldwell took some concentration and much marginalia but it's paid dividends, because I don't have a thesis up my sleeve and so I have been able to dive into it purely for pleasure.
'The similar ways of reading employed by nineteenth century doctors and imaginative writers...the complexities and creative exchanges of the relationship between literature and medicine'.
I haven't quite knitted all my thinking together yet but I think I've grasped, very simplistically, that we're talking about the way that writers mixed the natural and the super-natural and doctors had started taking a medical history that relied both on the patient's narrative, their own detailed story of their illness, and the actual physical signs evident on examination.
In hospital it used to be quaintly called clerking, but probably has a big long fancy name now. Patient Information Gathering Specification or something, PIGS for short, would be much more NHS 2007.I tell you it's all abbreviations these days, COAD, SNAF,CAMHS and worse. I'm a great one for halting meetings to ask for a decipheration ( nb grammar police, new word) and I don't believe I'm always the only person in the room who doesn't know.
RIDDOR is my latest addition after being mandatorily trained last week.
But I didn't really need to get my head round any of that to enjoy the chapter entitled 'Wuthering Heights and domestic medicine'.In fact so much so that I dashed to the shelf and opened my copy forthwith at very great speed.
There have been countless readings of a novel like this and Janis (sorry I don't do the academic surname thing) flags up quite a few obvious readings of Wuthering Heights that make you feel a bit daft for not noticing them before. Then there are the others you may have suffered in a past life, feminist, psychoanalytic, structuralist, deconstructionalisticism the mystical romance.There's some good down to earth stuff from Arnold Kettle as you'd expect from Open University old school,
'The story of Wuthering Heights is concerned not with love in the abstract but with the passions of living people, with property ownerships, the attraction of social comforts, the arrangement of marriages, the importance of education, the validity of religion, the rich and the poor.
There is nothing vague about this novel; the mists in it are the mists of the Yorkshire Moors.'
You can almost hear Arnold saying 'we'll be having none of that modern rubbish talked here'
But Janis advances something very interesting. A reading focused on the cult of the child, the idea of prolonged childhood,the characters who
'grow physically larger, they marry, but they remain emotionally pre-adolescent, unwise, demanding and unswervingly loyal.'
Then some more elaboration,
'Reading Wuthering Heights as a novel fundamentally about childhood does explain many of the so-called mysteries...Bronte signals through incessant references to childhood and childishness and that, in this enclosed little corner of Yorkshire, nearly all the players remain children'
So a sort of paediatric reading, well I should be able to do that.
There are some excellent references to Stevie Davies' invaluable thinking on Wuthering Heights as the novel whose 'power lies in its ability to awaken the reader's own experience of childhood' and suddenly I'm fired with enthusiasm and now quite desperate to read the book again in a new light after all these years.
Of course others may think, huh, forget it, it's a gurt great big tragic read and leave it at that, but if we're talking getting your moneysworth out of a well-known novel yet again, then for me this all adds a bit of spice, excitement and interest to a book I thought I knew quite well.
More on my paediatric reading of Wuthering Heights soon.
Other chapters in Literature and Medicine in Nineteenth-Century Britain on Frankenstein, Thomas Carlyle, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Darwin and of course no book combining the words nineteenth-century-literature-medicine in its title could possibly dare to leave out Middlemarch.
This chapter, 'Middlemarch and the medical case report' deserves a post of its own because there are some brilliant observations on the need for a more dynamic model for doctor/patient relationships, you'd like to see that chapter, and a study of Middlemarch, on the training syllabus for all would-be doctors.It covers just about every base.
More on that soon too.
The only tragedy here is the prohibitive price of this book, at £45 I assume you're paying for the scholarly research but it should be available from a library somewhere near you and well worth the 90p reservation fee.