The Double Feminine Nature and the Medical Gaze: Elsie Venner (1861)

  1. 1 Universidad de Cádiz

    Universidad de Cádiz

    Cádiz, España


Revista de Estudios Norteamericanos

ISSN: 1133-309X 2253-8410

Year of publication: 2016

Issue: 20

Pages: 109-136

Type: Article

More publications in: Revista de Estudios Norteamericanos


"Elsie Venner: a Romance of Destiny", written in 1861 by Oliver Wendell Holmes, is a singular novel. Written at a time when medicine was struggling to become a model of professionalization, its singularity lies in the fact that there are four doctors involved in the novel: its author, the narrator of the story and two main characters. Apart from this, out of the three main female characters in the novel, two of them sicken as a consequence of their disobedience to social and moral standards.The novel helps us explore some of the most important issues that were at the center of public debate in nineteenth century medicine: the supposedly pathological nature of female health, the complex relationship between doctor and patient, the consequences of crossing the borders of gender roles, the medical treatment of hysteria, the observational skills of the doctor, the role of the nurse and the threats to healthy reproduction

Bibliographic References

  • ARATA, Stephen. “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization.” Victorian Studies 33.4 (1990): 621-645.
  • ARMSTRONG, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
  • BOURNE TAYLOR, Jenny, and Sally Shuttleworth (eds.). Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts 1830-1890. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998.
  • BRAID, James. “Hypnotism.” 1843. In Bourne Taylor and Shuttleworth (eds.), 1998. 59-61.
  • BULL, Thomas. Hints to Mothers for the Management of Health During the Period of Pregnancy and in the Lying-in Room: With an Exposure of Popular Errors in Connection With Those Subjects and Hints Upon Nursing. London: Longmans Green, 1837.
  • BURBICK, Joan. Healing the Republic: The Language of Health and the Culture of Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • DAVIS, Cynthia J. Bodily and Narrative Forms: The Influence of Medicine on American Literature, 1845-1915. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.
  • DIXON, Edward H. Woman and Her Diseases: From the Cradle to the Grave: Adapted Exclusively to Her Instruction in the Physiology of Her System and All the Diseases of Her Critical Periods. Philadelphia, Pa.: J. W. Bradley, 1860.
  • EHRENREICH, Barbara, and Deirdre English. For Her Own Good. Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women. 1978. New York: Anchor Books, 2005.
  • FOUCAULT, Michel. The Birth of the Clinic. An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Trans.: A. M. Sheridan. London: Routledge, 1973.
  • FOUCAULT, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. A. M. Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1977.
  • FOUCAULT, Michel. The History of Sexuality I. Trans.: Robert Hurley. London: Penguin Books, 1978.
  • GALLAGHER, Kathleen. “The Art of Snake Handling: Lamia, Elsie Venner, and 'Rappaccini's Daughter'” Studies in American Fiction 3.1 (1975): 51-64.
  • GALLAGHER, Catherine, and Thomas Walter Laqueur (eds.). The Making of the Modern Body: Sexuality and Society in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley; London: University of California Press, 1987.
  • GIBIAN, Peter. Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Culture of Conversation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • GRAHAM, Thomas John. “Early Marriages of Excellent Tendency.” 1853. In Bourne Taylor and Shuttleworth, 1998. 187-188.
  • HOLLICK, Frederick. The Diseases of Woman, Their Causes and Cure Familiarly Explained: With Practical Hints for Their Prevention, and for the Preservation of Female Health. New York: Burgess, Stringer, 1847.
  • HOLMES, Oliver Wendell. Elsie Venner: A Romance of Destiny. 1861. s.l.: CreateSpace, 2012.
  • LAVATER, John Caspar. “On Physiognomy.” 1789. In Bourne Taylor and Shuttleworth, 1998. 8-18.
  • LOMBROSO, Cesare, Mary Gibson, and Nicole Hahn Rafter. Criminal Man.1876. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.
  • MITCHELL, Silas Weir. Fat and Blood: An Essay on the Treatment of Certain Forms of Neurasthenia and Hysteria. Philadelphia, PA.: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1884.
  • OTIS, Laura (ed.). Literature and Science in the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • POOVEY, Mary. “„Scenes of an Undelicate Character": The Medical „Treatment' of Victorian Women.” In Gallagher and Laqueur (eds.), 1987. 137-168.
  • POOVEY, Mary. Uneven Developments: the Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.
  • REVERBY, Susan. Ordered to Care: The Dilemma of American Nursing, 1850-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
  • SCULL, Andrew T. Hysteria: The Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • SMITH-ROSENBERG, Carroll. Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
  • SPENCER, Herbert. The Study of Sociology. New York: D. Appleton, 1896.
  • SWENSON, Kristine. Medical Women and Victorian Fiction. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005.
  • VRETTOS, Athena. Somatic Fictions: Imagining Illness in Victorian Culture. Stanford, CA.: Stanford University Press, 1995.
  • WEINSTEIN, Michael A. The Imaginative Prose of Oliver Wendell Holmes. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006.
  • WELTER, Barbara. “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860.” American Quarterly 18.2 (1966): 151-174.