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Home arrow Language & Literature arrow Syphilis in Victorian Literature and Culture: Medicine, Knowledge and the Spectacle of Victorian Invisibility


  • 1. I understand an “iconic” reading in terms introduced by Mieke Bal, for whom “iconicity” denotes a type of interpretation predicated upon a supposed resemblance between the sign and its referent (2006: 295).
  • 2. Many scholars have made distinctions between “disease,” “illness” and “sickness.” Arthur Kleinman’s analytical division of sickness into an individual experience (illness) and a socio-cultural, generalized concept (disease) has proved particularly popular (1980: 72-5). Already in 1975, Christopher Boorse pointed out the biased character of such taxonomy and its problematic application in critical studies. In view of this critique, I use the aforementioned and other labels interchangeably to highlight the inseparability of disease concepts, their media production and lived experiences. For an overview of writings on disease concepts and analytical taxonomies, see also Engelhardt 1995, Rosenberg 1992a, Caplan et al. 2004 and Mol 2002.
  • 3. In his 2004 article Jakob Vogel objects to the imprecise use of the term “scientific knowledge” (“wissenschaftliches Wissen”) while also noting various tendencies of its homogenization and its “a-historical” use and warranting the necessity to inspect its changing meaning and relation to “lay” knowledge (643-4). This propensity to an a-historical synthesis of concepts is pointed out by Ludwik Fleck in his treatise on the development of scientific facts (1935) but is deployed by Vogel in a broader argument against scientific pursuits that are exempt from recognizing the historicity and cultural-contextual development of disciplines and the notions of scientific knowledge they produce. Following his argument, I am attentive to the historically specific understanding of science and medicine. While the major developments in nineteenth-century medicine have been outlined in Chapter 1, its internal mechanisms of knowledge production and dissemination will be discussed in more detail in this and Chapter 3.
  • 4. For further discussion, see Kousoulis et al. 2011: n. pag.
  • 5. For further studies on the etymology of the word “syphilis,” see Peszke 1883, Timmermans 1898, Tagarelli et al. 2011, Baum 1901.
  • 6. Although the lack of systematization in Fleck’s work has been noted, along with frequent inconsistencies in his practical application of the concepts he developed (for example, Harwood 1986, Lindermann 2001), his significance for contemporary sociological studies of knowledge production has repeatedly been emphasized. Illana Lowy maintains that Fleck’s approach is particularly helpful in discussing “medical facts,” which are developed “ through multilevel interactions and circulation in heterogeneous networks that are dynamic and historical, and that are at the same time strongly material and cultural” (2004: 443-4). Indeed, Fleck’s attention to the processes of knowledge production and dissemination are of particular import and usefulness to this study, as is his historiographic work on the development of the concept of syphilis. For newer assessments of Fleck’s influence on the history and philosophy of science as well as on medicine and its history, see R. Cohen and Schnelle 1986, Golinski 2005, Brorson 2006, Fehr, Jas and Lowy 2009, Fagan 2009, Rheinberger 2010, Werner and Zittel 2011.
  • 7. Fleck famously distinguishes between four levels of scientific knowledge: the “journalist” knowledge of the experts within the “esoteric” circle of a thought collective, the “vademecum” knowledge of general specialists, “textbook” science, which is a means of initiation into the esoteric circle and finally “popular” science addressed at the laymen of the “exoteric” circle (1981: 110-12). Characteristically, Fleck associates the communication of knowledge with increasing degrees of simplification, lucidity, valuation and apodictic conveyance (113), where the distance from the esoteric circle is proportionate to the degree by which “thinking appears to be [... ] dominated by an emotive vividness that imparts to knowledge the subjective certainty of something holy or self-evident” (117).
  • 8. For a variety of such preoccupations, see Braidotti 1994, Hird 2004, Squier 2004, Birke and Hubbard 1995, Birke 2000, Bryld and Lykke 1999; for the ways in which materiality and discourse have been connected, see Haraway 1991, 1997, Braidotti 2002, 2006, Barad 2003, 2007 and Hayles 1999.
  • 9. For the criticism of Butler’s notion of matter, see Braidotti 2002, Mairs 1997 and Barad 2007.
  • 10. On the potentialities of reconfiguration, see Barad 2007: 218-20.
  • 11. Herbert Hutchinson reports that his father usually bought a couple of copies of the same book in order to be able to cut them up and place “the illustrations in large envelopes according to a classification of his own; so as to get the most complete set of illustrations of different diseases” (1947: 193).
  • 12. A Yorkshire-born Quaker and a polymath educated at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London and County Hospital in York, he was affiliated with many medical institutions (for instance with the Moorfields Eye Hospital, Blackfriars Skin Hospital and the Metropolitan Free Hospital). He also founded and was an active member of many associations that aimed to improve medical practices (New Sydenham Society, Hunterian Society, Pathological Society, Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society). He was also a frequent contributor to medical journals, edited the British Medical Journal for a time, wrote reports on the situation of hospitals and medical training and presided over the International Dermatologic Congress in 1896. He was the first one to describe a number of disorders which came to bear his name: “Hutchinson’s teeth,” “Hutchinson’s triad” or “Hutchinson’s facies” (James 2008: 226; Abraham 1947: ii). For a detailed account of Hutchinson’s life and work, see Wales 1948, McKusick 1952, Abraham 1947.
  • 13. Although syphilology and venerology did not figure as separate disciplines in medical practice in Britain and syphilis study was conducted by dermatologists, eye-doctors, generalists, surgeons, etc., I use the terms ‘syphilographer’ and ‘syphilologist’ to denote Hutchinson’s special professional interest and his allegiance to the international avant-garde in this domain.
  • 14. I take this characterization of syphilis as “multiple” from Annemarie Mol’s (2002) theorization of the multiplicity of practices that simultaneously constitute an ill body.
  • 15. For various conceptualizations of intermedial processes, see Rajewsky 2002, Paech and Schroter 2008, Schroter 1998; also see Schroter 2010 for a discussion of the political implications of the two dominant discourses about intermediality.
  • 16. The print represents a young girl holding a meter (most probably for measurement). The inscription reads: “Hopital St-Louis, Service de M. le Prof Alfred FOURNIER. Photogr de F. MEHEUX, dessin - PARIS.” Sir Jonathan Hutchinson Collection, Institute of the History of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.
  • 17. On the processes of scientific illustration and their reproduction, see Hill 1915.
  • 18. Ehring regards them as simple reproductions and bemoans their quality (1989: 174).
  • 19. I would like to thank Christine Ruggere, curator of Sir Jonathan Hutchinson Collection, Institute of the History of Medicine at The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, for this suggestion and for her help in identifying the various practices in the preparation of medical illustrations.
  • 20. Not without reason did Joseph Gerlach, Professor of Anatomy at Erlangen, Germany, explicitly outline the shortcomings of photographic processes: “Even when one is so fortunate as to get a sharply focused picture, one really had to be grateful to chance rather than methodical procedure” (qtd. in Gernsheim 1961: 87). At the same time, British authorities on the subject fought endless battles over the usability of photography in two leading medical journals, the Lancet and the British Medical Journal. On the survey of the debates about photography and medicine, see especially: Schmidt 2001, K. Arnold 1993, 2001, A. Thomas 1997, Burns 1987, Fox and Lawrence 1988; for an analysis of the Salpetriere iconography and photography, see Kuner and Hartschuh 2003.
  • 21. Hutchinson was himself of the opinion that yaws was a variation of syphilis (1901-02: 23) and attributed the differences between their symptomatologies to racial and climatic differences.
  • 22. While Hutchinson’s writings often offered aids to the understanding and recognition of the plates he included in his publications, other medical atlases followed the craze of photography with little consideration for the didactic value of the images they included.
  • 23. Chapter 4 explores the socio-political and economic implications of these processes of translation.
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