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Medical History
Cambridge University Press
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1017/mdh.2013.54
  • Book Review
  • Medicine


Pamboukian’s book takes on an important and vexed topic: the slippery distinctions being made in the nineteenth century between medicine and quackery, science and pseudoscience as represented in novels of the period (and some shorter fiction at the end of the century). The book argues that quackery was hard to define in the period, and that anxieties about authority and professionalism often crystalise, both in novels and medical culture, around the definition of what constitutes quackery. The first three chapters deal with practitioners as professionals and scientists. Chapter One addresses the practice of dissection, concluding that the 1832 Act did not in fact reconcile the public as a whole with the practice, and that anatomists might still be seen as quacks. Pamboukian reads Frankenstein as a novel that addresses some of these anxieties, in part through its simultaneous positioning of Frankenstein as a scientific genius and a quack, an experimentalist who never quite understands what he himself has done, perhaps largely by accident. The following chapter reads Dickens’s portrayal of physicians through the debate around professionalisation surrounding the Medical Act of 1858 and ‘challenges the fallacies that distinguishing between quackery and orthodoxy depended largely on science and that bourgeois professionals were a united group’ (p. x). Pamboukian then moves on to Bronte’s depiction of Dr John in Villette as a figure who simultaneously seems to embody the ideal of the Protestant English professional doctor and some elements of quackery, including the use of placebos, his withholding of medical information and transgression of professional norms during courtship. The final two chapters address the doctor and material medica in Collins’s Armadale and surgeon Arthur Conan Doyle’s portrayal of quackery as an integral part of professional practice in both the Sherlock Holmes stories and in the lesser known 1895 The Stark Munro Letters, featuring a main character who is a doctor. This is perhaps too

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