- Purchase/rental options available:
This paper examines Frances Burney's 1812 mastectomy letter alongside contemporaneous medical treatises on the subject of breast cancer. Burney's letter offers a critique of a medical community that misconstrues her experience and can be viewed as pathography, or disability memoir. Examining the letter and the treatises in this way illuminates the brutality of some medical practices and the frequent incongruity between the patients' and the physicians' understandings of pain. However, the letter and the treatises also share much in common; both at times emphasize the patient's words and experiences, and both reveal the impressive and contradictory range of ideas surrounding breast cancer in the long eighteenth century. The paper ends by suggesting that the complex rapport between the letter and the treatises holds particular interest for the field of disability studies in its confrontations with socio-medical tendencies to normalize the body and downplay the harsh realities of breast cancer.