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Intracorporeal Narratives: Reading Internal Biology in Women’s Literature, 1880s-1930s

Project description

A closer look at what women wrote about the human body

Do visualisations of the body's internal organs and inner workings change through time? How does literature reflect medical developments and discoveries? Do metaphors help us visualise these systems and parts: hormones as postal packages, the sperm and egg as static and kinetic, the biological clock? The EU-funded INTRARIB project will answer these questions by focusing on the medical humanities. Specifically, it will explore how British and American women writers of the late 19th and 20th centuries visualised and communicated bodily experiences through ‘intracorporeal’ descriptions. It will examine how suffering is rationalised and perceived. It will also study the influence of gendered notions.


My project examines British and American women’s fiction of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for its depictions of internal anatomy: organs and systems, circulatory, nervous, reproductive, and digestive. This study will make a distinctive contribution to the field of medical humanities: the development of an analytical process of body-centred reading, and new analysis of how women’s writing communicates bodily experiences and depicts the ‘intracorporeal’, narrative journeys through concealed and invisible organs. The project questions: how do visualisations of the body's insides and internal workings change through time? Does literature reflect medical developments and discoveries, for example echoing the shift from the nervous to the hormonal body? How are metaphors employed to aid us in visualising these systems and parts: the nervous system as a network of vibrating strings, hormones as postal packages or chemical messages, the sperm and egg as static and kinetic, the biological clock? My work surveys the persistent desire to find a physiological rationale, to map pain internally, even when that pain has an emotional or psychological source. I also explore how changing conceptualisations of the body interact with gendered notions of pathology and disorder. Comparing fictional texts to medical writing and advertising of the same era, I will track the development of and interaction between the medical understanding of the internal body, communication in the public realm, and exploration in literature.


Net EU contribution
€ 166 320,00
9000 Gent

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Vlaams Gewest Prov. Oost-Vlaanderen Arr. Gent
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 166 320,00