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.
Fields of science
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