Fall 2021


, 4 pts, GU4934


This seminar serves as an introduction to the British literature and culture of the long eighteenth century through the lens of the medical humanities. In the period roughly defined as 1688-1815, the progress of medicine was shaped by a new strain of Enlightenment thinking, which held that reason and empiricism could lead to accurate scientific knowledge about the body. Yet the period also saw the lingering presence of other ways of knowing about fundamental bodily concepts, like illness, disease, health, and disability—from the humors of Galenic medicine to the notion of maternal imagination, which explained how a woman could give birth to rabbits. This course explores the collision of medical epistemologies in this period of change by reading eighteenth-century novels, poetry, drama, memoirs, and medical writing. Literary writers were deeply engaged in the period’s medical discoveries, and their writing served as a testing-ground for working out ideas about the competing roles of bodies in the complex sociocultural world of the eighteenth century. In reading works by authors such as Molière, Frances Burney, Daniel Defoe, Olaudah Equiano, Mary Wortley Montagu, Laurence Sterne, and Mary Wollstonecraft, we will also study medical topics, including the history of epidemic and inoculation; sexuality, pregnancy and disease; humoral theories of the body and of satire; the patient’s narrative; and the rise of autopsy and the clinical gaze. Ultimately, the course traces how “wonder becomes error,” in Rosemarie Garland Thomson’s terms, as Enlightenment literature “moves from a narrative of the marvelous to a narrative of the deviant.” The seminar will particularly suit students who are interested in British literature, literature pre-1800, and the medical humanities. To apply, write to the instructor with a brief statement of interest.

Section Number
Call Number
Day, Time & Location
T 12:10PM-2:00PM
Arden A Hegele