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Making Poetry of Pain: The Headache Poems of Jane Cave Winscom

From: Literature and Medicine
Volume 24, Number 1, Spring 2005
pp. 93-108 | 10.1353/lm.2005.0030


Jane Cave Winscom was an 18-century British poet who suffered from excruciating headaches. Three poems about her pain appear in the 1794 edition of her Poems. They provide both a valuable historical account of the treatments she underwent and a patient's account of the physical and psychological effects of headache. Winscom's poems display many of the same features as current pain narratives. They expose private and devastating suffering to public gaze, and publicly question the medical establishment that has failed to restore her to health. They also reveal features that have come to be understood as foundational in pain narratives: a body turned on itself and figured as an external enemy, and the absolute power of pain to silence the sufferer. Most important, the poems demonstrate Winscom's narrative composition of a self who has overcome this enforced silence to speak the experience of head pain.

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