1st Edition

Female Physicians in American Literature Abortion in 19th-Century Literature and Culture

By Margaret Jay Jessee Copyright 2022
    108 Pages
    by Routledge

    108 Pages
    by Routledge

    Female Physicians in American Literature traces the woman physician character throughout her varying depictions in 19th-century literature, from her appearance in sensational fiction as an evil abortionist to her more well-known idyllic, feminine presence in novels of realism and regionalism. "Murderess," "hag," "She-Devil," "the instrument of the very vilest crime known in the annals of hell"—these are just a few descriptions of women abortionists in popular 19th-century sensational fiction. In novels of regionalism, however, she is often depicted as moral, feminine, and self-sacrificing. This dichotomy, Jessee argues, reveals two opposing literary approaches to registering the national fears of all that both women and abortion evoke: the terrifying threats to white, masculine, Anglo-American male supremacy. 


    Introduction: The Woman Physician Character and Anglo-American Nationalism

    Fearing the Woman Physician as Trope

    Abortion and Nationalism

    Chapter 1: An "Atrocious Foreign Woman": White Nationalism and the Abortionist

    The Sensation of Madame Restell

    Embodying the Abortionist

    Chapter 2: The Corporeal Legacy of the Abortionist

    Abortion and Melodrama

    Sensation as White Supremacy

    Chapter 3: "Truly Womanly Work": Sentiment and Reform Fiction

    Radical Gender in the Social Problem Novel

    The "Abominations" of the Woman Physician

    Chapter 4: Absorbing the Terror: The Idealized Woman Physician

    Curing White Male Nationality

    The Woman Physician as Christ Figure

    Conclusion: Curing the Sentimental Feminist with the "Doctress"

    Genre and Gendered Medicine

    Queering the Doctress

    Affective Metanarratives


    Margaret Jay Jessee, PhD (University of Arizona, 2012) is Associate Professor of English at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where she is also Director of the Undergraduate Program. She guest edited a special issue of Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Theory, and Culture on medical women in 19th-century American literature and her essay "'Cutting Up Dead Babies': The Literary Legacy of the Woman Physician as Abortionist" appears in Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal. Her other work has appeared in The Journal of Modern Literature, Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, South Atlantic Review, and in various essay collections.