Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy



First Adviser

Dolan, Elizabeth

Other advisers/committee members

Keetley, Dawn; Kramp, Michael; Townshend, Dale


Late eighteenth-century medical science during the rise of the Gothic tradition stood on the brink of significant shifts in cultural perceptions of the body, biopolitical considerations of human anatomy, and relationships between scientists and their subjects. In light of these shifts, natural science often found that its theories and speculations far exceeded the physical capabilities required to test them. Unable to prove or disprove their theories through empirical evidence, scientists’ theories became stalled in speculation. I argue that literature can make this speculative space productive. This dissertation examines those moments when Gothic literature of the Romantic period circumvents the limitations of medical research to pick up its own scalpel and experiment in an imaginative space of its own. Each chapter considers an area of Gothic literature that interacts with contemporary medical theory to explore new possibilities for science, the body, and social justice in experimental textual spaces. Chapter One examines the 1801 poetry of Matthew Lewis through a vitalist discourse to expose and repurpose the medical field’s uncertainty about the line between life and death. Chapter Two contrasts the physical composition of the dead body in Charlotte Dacre’s 1805 to suggest that the skeletal figures of death that appear to Dacre’s female melancholic protagonists mirror these women’s desires to be similarly emptied of the passions that cause them pain, thereby embodying a form of anesthesia. Chapter Three engages with controversies regarding dissection and its importance for the empirical study of human anatomy, reading the ambivalent role of the corpse in medicine through Joanna Baillie’s 1810 play, The Family Legend as a case study that exhibits the dangers of disregarding the body as a crucial pedagogical tool for empirical knowledge but also reasons why this ambivalence might exist. In Chapter Four, I turn towards the historical treatment—medical, social, and legal—of disability in Joshua Pickersgill’s 1803 novel, The Three Brothers, particularly in relation to the juxtaposition of supernatural and natural bodies. Chapter Five considers narratology, contagion, and fear in Mary Shelley’s 1823 The Last Man and the narrator’s ability to make the narrative “safe” for medical use. Each chapter considers the dual meaning of the word, “anatomize”—to dissect and to analyze—in order to reimagine the body, the biopolitics that control it, and the concepts of justice that serve its needs.

Available for download on Thursday, June 10, 2021