Conclusion

I would like to return to Madame Robert’s case and Lamothe’s description of it. What does the Dictionnaire des sciences medicates tell us about this clinical case? First of all, as Lamothe himself implies, scirrhus and cancers were not necessarily considered to be incurable conditions, nor a necessary cause of sterility. Although we have no correspondence from Mme Robert herself, we might, in turn, conjecture that her consultations were sincere attempts to improve her health, if not to cure her sterility. Secondly, the reading of Delpit’s medical correspondence together with the published articles by Lamothe and Fodere demonstrates that, even though sterility was theoretically understood as a condition which affected both sexes, women were the first to be diagnosed and treated. Not once do we read about Mme Robert’s husband, his regimen and habits, and his agency in the couple’s life, except through his wife’s painful experiences during coition.

Madame Robert’s sterile marriage was thus never once attributed to her husband. This may be because her initial condition showed signs of irregular menstruation and echoed Gardien’s anxious description of ‘morose intellectual women’. In that case, the correlation between morosity - in Robert’s case, ‘general disgust for her environment’ - and weak wombs could potentially be cured by taking the waters, which, as Gardien argued, were as good as aphrodisiacs for curing sterility in phlegmatic women:

C’est dans ta steritite de cette espece que pourrait convenir t’emptoi de toutes tes substances stimutantes auxquettes tes medecins ont attribue la vertu aphrodisiaque. L’usage des eaux minerales de Vichy, de Sylvanes dans la Foret Noire, etc. prises interieurement, ou employees en bains, ont quelquefois reussi a rendre les femmes fecondes.

In this type of sterility, it might be efficient to use invigorating substances which doctors have considered to be aphrodisiac. Vichy mineral waters and Sylvanes in the Black Forest, taken internally or in bathing, have sometimes rendered women fertile.59

There was no accompanying mention of a potential gentleman companion, unlike in the nineteenth-century caricature quoted at the beginning of this chapter. Yet this reveals a continuous medical belief, throughout the nineteenth century, in the therapeutic powers of spas for those affected with problems related to barrenness. Gardien’s statement needs to be read in parallel with earlier prescriptions of spa treatment, such as those eagerly followed by Royal Princesses and Queens, including Anne d’Autriche in seventeenth- century France, Queen Anne of Great Britain, who did not have a surviving heir in spite of her 17 pregnancies, her sister Queen Mary, who did not have an heir at all, and her stepmother Mary of Modena, whose spa cure proved successful at the end of the Restoration period.60

To return to the morosity described by Gardien’s article, and by Dr. Lamothe in his letter to Delpit, it seems that one of the ways in which medical doctors approached sterile women at the turn of the nineteenth century was based on a loose typology. By this I mean that several types of sterile women emerge when reading both articles on sterility, and Lamothe’s letter: the lean and hot type, the virago, the melancholy and morose, and the anxious intellectual. As he writes, Lamothe, consciously or unconsciously, adapts his description to one of the major types that circulated in medical discussions of female sterility. These types should be investigated as collective cultural references at work in literature, caricature, and periodicals. They framed the medical and cultural understanding of a condition that remained invisible and mysterious even for reputed medical doctors such as Gardien and Fodere.61

 
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