- Bettine von Arnim und die Gesundheit. Medizin, Krankheit und Familie im 19. Jahrhundert by Martin Dinges
Martin Dinges's meticulous study of Bettine von Arnim's daily routines concerning health and wellness can be positioned within a larger pool of research devoted to the history of medical pluralism, especially from the patient's perspective. Dinges is the deputy director and archivist at the Bosch Foundation Institute for the History of Medicine in Stuttgart, where he leads a team that has guided the history of medicine away from a linear, progressive tale emphasizing medical innovators and their advances in diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of disease. Instead of conducting medical history from the top down, so to speak, these researchers focus on day-to-day health practice from the ground up. Their archive consists of letters, testimonies, and biographies of patients and physicians, and they note demographics (differences of sex, age, and class), patient education, medical preferences, cost of care, medical lay associations, and traditions of self-medication. This social history of medicine also examines precautions taken during pregnancy, birth, and nursing; childhood illness and vaccination; hygiene; and diet. As such, it asks where the overlap lies between curative and preventative approaches to illness. Dinges, also one of the foremost German historians of masculinity, pays special attention to gender differentiation in patterns of self-care, and he has a fine ear for the gender disparity and inequity expressed in the Bettine-Achim correspondence. What is remarkable about Dinges's impressively detailed reconstruction of day-to-day life for the Arnim family is that, even [End Page 619] while organizing his long book via the chronology of correspondence, he manages to differentiate each subsection according to a particularly salient preoccupation of the Arnim household at any given period in their lives.
Dinges is also a leading historian of homeopathy, which explains why he selected Bettine von Arnim as an object of study: she was a staunch supporter of homeopathy. Dinges offers an important contribution to medical pluralism in the first half of the nineteenth century, because he gives comprehensive insight into the reasons for her turning away from conventional medicine. He thus nestles Bettine's advocacy of homeopathy within her larger attitudes toward family, social connections, and political activism. For instance, he spends considerable time outlining how she was the nodal point for a network of persons she encouraged to turn to homeopathy—a network that included not only her husband, children, household help, and wider family relations—such as Carl and Gunda Savigny—but also such individuals as Karl Friedrich Schinkel and his wife. Such networking and advocacy also reveal themselves in her stepping in to publicly defend maligned homeopaths. Her questioning of authority and demand for social and political reform thus extended to the medical field. As Bettine von Arnim and her circle testify, scholars need to realize that homeopathy is not an aberration or oddity, however disputed the practice may be; it is an important dimension to health culture by the third decade of the nineteenth century.
It is interesting that Dinges comes to the conclusion that Bettine took less interest in the theory behind homeopathy than in its practical efficacy in her life. She had, in addition to her homeopath, her own remedy kit and would self-medicate, though Dinges states her recommendations do not correspond with the homeopathic materia medica of her day. There is no indication in her correspondence as to why she thought homeopathy in general or why any particular remedy worked—she simply stated that homeopathy was sacredly in tune with nature. It was clearly, for her, a noninvasive and immediate vehicle for wellness, standing in stark contrast to the still pervasive practice of copious blood-letting. Dinges does not speculate as to why Bettine did not exhibit curiosity about homeopathy's workings. One reason might have to do with the absence in his study of reference to Brunonian-inflected romantic medicine, which was long out of favor by the 1820s but...