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Medical Examinations

Dissecting the Doctor in French Narrative Prose, 1857-1894

Mary Donaldson-Evans

Publication Year: 2000

From the crude battlefield surgery of Revolutionary times to the birth of modern clinical medicine, the nineteenth century witnessed impressive developments in the medical sciences and a concomitant growth in the prestige of the medical practitioner. In France this phenomenon had important implications for literature as writers scrambled to give legitimacy to their enterprise by allying themselves with science. Overflowing its traditional banks, medical discourse inundated the field of French literature, particularly in the realist and naturalist movements.

The literati's enthrallment with medicine and their subservient adoption of a medical model in the creation of their plots and characters have not previously been seriously questioned. In Medical Examinations, Mary Donaldson-Evans corrects this oversight. Exploring six novels and two short stories published during the Second Empire and the early Third Republic, she argues that there was a growing resistance to medicine's linguistic and professional hegemony, a resistance fraught with ideological implications. Tainted by a subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—anti-Semitism, some of the fiction of this period adopts counterdiscursive strategies to tar the physician with his own brush. Featured authors include Gustave Flaubert, Edmond and Jules Goncourt, Emile Zola, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Guy de Maupassant, and Alphonse and Léon Daudet.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

Those readers who have spent excruciatingly long hours in physicians' waiting rooms will appreciate that Medical Examinations has been in my cerebral waiting room for well over ten years. Indeed, it was not only the subject but also the seemingly endless nature of the project that inspired my title, and although I shall avoid a facile pun on the word patient, let...

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pp. 1-21

The seemingly paradoxical notion that the medical practitioner may cause illness rather than cure it has a factual basis. From the well-known dangers of hospital confinement in the pre-Pasteurian era to contemporary tales of horror concerning the transmission of the AIDS virus by doctors and dentists, the danger inherent in surrendering...

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1. Madame Bovary's Blind Beggar: A Medical Reading

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pp. 22-40

Flaubert's contemptuous comment about the medical profession, made at one of the famous "Magny dinners" and duly reported by the Goncourt brothers in their journal, may appear somewhat incongruous in view of the extent to which he drew upon medical knowledge in the creation of his characters and their stories. Yet there exists a...

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2. The Doctor and the Priest: A Case of Collusion in Madame Gervaisais

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pp. 41-73

Cliniciens-ès-lettres. Such was the designation that Victor Segalen used for Edmond and Jules de Goncourt in the title of his 1902 medical thesis. The unusual term, with its juxtaposition of the medical and the literary, points to a connection between the brothers' clinical perspective and their professional practice as writers. Indeed, the persistence with which...

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3. Miasmatic Effluvia: L'Assommoir and the Discourse of Hygiene

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pp. 74-92

In Les Romanciers naturalistes (1881), published some twelve years after Madame Gervaisais, Zola expressed the opinion that the Goncourts' work could not properly be called a novel but was, rather, the simple "study of a woman." Because he underestimated the importance of Pierre- Charles ("hardly the outline of a child"), Zola did not appreciate the...

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4. Counter-Discursive Strategies in Huysmans's En ménage

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pp. 93-109

In 1880, Joris-Karl Huysmans contributed a story to Les Soirées de Médan, thus becoming part of what was derisively referred to as "Zola's tail." A year later, in an otherwise laudatory review of Huysmans's novel En ménage (1881), Zola gently reproached his disciple for "the search for the pathological case study, the love of human wounds."1 While such...

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5. Voices of Authority? Maupassant and the Physician-Narrator

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pp. 110-122

The novels examined thus far corroborate the thesis that late-nineteenth-century French literati were acutely aware of the limits of medical science and cynical about the widespread diffusion of a clinical discourse. Yet they exhibit a certain timidity where the medical practitioner is concerned, launching oblique attacks by appearing to target what might...

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6. The Physician as Foreigner: Alphonse Daudet's Le Nabab

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pp. 123-139

Of Alphonse Daudet's novels, Roger Williams writes that they "give us life in France between 1860 and 1890 without the political bias that marred Zola's greater novels about life during the Second Empire."1 Whether or not one accepts the objective/subjective opposition that Williams regards as the defining distinction between Daudet and Zola...

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7. Hydrotherapy and Medical Bloat in Maupassant's Mont-Oriol

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pp. 140-157

"The great defect in Mont-Oriol is, above all else, the absence of any irony or detachment." So wrote Edward Sullivan in 1954 in his pioneering study, Maupassant the Novelist.1 The brief chapter devoted to Maupassant's third novel in Sullivan's monograph reflects the critic's lack of esteem for what he termed "the weakest" of Maupassant's novels. In...

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8. Medical Menace in Léon Daudet's Les Morticoles

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pp. 158-174

At the beginning of a lengthy meditation on the medical profession, Montaigne writes about his kidney stones, a condition he believes he has inherited from his father, and then suggests that his skepticism regarding the efficacy of medical treatment is also hereditary: "I hope that physicians will forgive my frankness, because, by the same fatal...

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pp. 175-199

In his impressive article on Les Morticoles, Toby Gelfand asserts that "a cogent antimedical polemic presupposes a society in which medicine has established its strength to a level where it can serve as a credible target."1 He distinguishes between the buffoonery of Molière's incompetent doctors and "the more malevolent literary view of medicine" that...


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pp. 201-217


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pp. 219-231


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pp. 233-240

E-ISBN-13: 9780803202474
E-ISBN-10: 0803202474

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: Illus.
Publication Year: 2000