- The Scientific Lady: A Social History of Women's Scientific Interests, 1520-1918 by Patricia Phillips, and: The Eternally Wounded Woman: Women, Doctors and Exercise in the Late Nineteenth Century by Patricia A. Vertinsky (review)
- Victorian Review
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 17, Number 2, Winter 1991
- pp. 96-100
- View Citation
- Additional Information
96Victorian Review Despite such tributes, Wells's influence had already begun to dissipate before his death, as he realized himself. In reflecting on a series of lectures he gave in 1938, he wrote, They were wildly successful. They were deUvered in a setting of compliments and applause. I had been stimulating, amazingly stimulating. I had said things that long needed saying . . . and then everything went on just as it had been going on before. The stimulant seemed to evaporate at once" (The Fate ofMan 8081 ). It seems that what he said about bis talks with such world leaders as Roosevelt and Stalin, appUed also to his readers generally: ? can talk to them and even unsettle them but I cannot compel their brains to see" (Murray 78). An unknown woman wrote to WeUs that he taught her generation that no one "could remain indifferent to the meaning ofworld events and their relationship to our present Uves, nor fail to make an attempt to find Ught and hope in the muddled darkness of men's stupidity" (244). His work still has the power to do this, though one can find as much pessimism there as optimism. In any event, it continues to be worth reading and it is to be hoped that the books under review will encourage their readers to turn to it. Ken Osborne University ofManitoba Patricia Phillips. The Scientific Lady:A SocialHistory of Women's Scientific Interests, 1520-1918. New York: St Martin's P, 1990. xiü + 279. $35.00 US (cloth). PatriciaA. Vertinsky. TheEternally Wounded Woman: Women, Doctors and Exercise in theLateNineteenth Century. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1990. 279. $59.95 US (cloth). These books both complement and contrast each other: Patricia PhiUips, for instance, states that "the professionalization of women as doctors is beyond the scope of this book" (207n), whereas Patricia Vertinsky devotes the second of the three parts of her book to women physicians, including their entry and accommodation to the profession. This complementarity only highlights, however, the ideological distance between the two books. Reviews97 Both books are full of fascinating information, information which women scholars are continuing to unearth to remedy the "scarcity of facts" (46) of which Virginia Woolf complained. After reading these books, no one can complain that "one knows nothing detailed, nothing perfectly true and substantial" about the women who are their subjects. We know Bathsua Makin's proposed school curriculum (1673); Aphra Behn's "now never to be fulfilled ambition to have made some personal contribution to science herself (PhiUips 90); Caroline Herschel's reaction to receiving her first (and only) pay packet (Phillips 161); the Taunton Commissioners' (1864-68) reactions to the teaching of science in girls' schools (PhiUips 242-45). VertinskZs book is less concerned with "facts" than with the processes by which perceptions and assumptions are labeUed "facts," so her book is full of the details of the arguments among medical authorities as to, for example, the advantages and dangers of bicycle riding for women (76-80), or the physical and emotional unsuitability of women for medical practice (120), that is, as physicians. For nurses, "the hard and incessant toil of medical practice" (121) was tolerable because it was part of women's traditional "ministry of . . . help and sympathy" (124). Our sense of history is a Uttle less "unreal, lopsided" (Woolf 47) as a result of these books: we see women in the scientific lecture halls and on the playing fields; we watch them handle the apparatus ofchemistry and ofgymnastics with equal proficiency. Phülips's book is "an investigation of the interest in science and mathematics cultivated by unexceptional and usually unambitious British women, most of them from the leisured classes" (ix). She shows how ladies were encouraged to pursue an interest in scientific studies as recreation, and as a mental, moral and religious discipUne. Chemistry and cookery were closely allied, ran the argument, and were therefore equally appropriate for ladies' amateur attentions. Natural history in revealing the wonders of the createdworld would encourage awe of the Creator, and an appreciation of the proper place of every living thing, including women, in the hierarchical scheme of things. Some writers urged women to develop their skills in mathematics...