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date: 18 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Exploring the relationship between literature and medicine, this chapter analyzes how three novels from the American realist period—Henry James’s Washington Square (1880), Sarah Orne Jewett’s A Country Doctor (1884), and Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition (1901)—represent the medical profession during its rise to what Paul Starr has called “professional sovereignty” in the United States. Although today we may take medicine’s elite status in our society for granted, together these novels reveal that its turn-of-the-century consolidation as a profession in which society would ultimately invest unique forms of authority and prestige was anything but uncontested. Through the fictions they created, realist writers offered nuanced critical perspectives on the modes through which medicine asserted its sovereignty and also probed underlying gendered and racial tensions, even violence, that the profession’s own self-representations sought to occlude.

Keywords: literature and medicine, American literary realism, Henry James, Sarah Orne Jewett, Charles Chesnutt, medical profession, race in medicine, gender in medicine

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