Date of Award

Spring 5-20-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Travis Chi Wing Lau


This project studies representations of the heroic medical practitioner in Victorian novels published around the midcentury. Because this was a historical moment at which executive agencies in the British government acquired greater powers, often justified by newly emergent forms of professional expertise, many prominent novels systematically represented those professions which could serve as the basis for new government bodies capable of mitigating or counteracting the most harmful effects of modern life. Due to the promise of public health movements in the 1830s and 1840s, those novels published around the midcentury often identified the medical practitioner (especially the emergent general practitioner) as a profession whose expertise could justify an effective and wide-ranging public health system. In Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1853), the representation of the benevolent surgeon-apothecary Allan Woodcourt signifies a possible public health system employing techniques of constitutional medicine partially derived from the domestic sphere to moderate the universalizing structures, social antagonisms, and meager conditions of life produced by liberalism and capitalism. In Charles Kingsley’s Two Years Ago (1857), the bold and experienced protagonist Dr. Thomas Thurnall represents an aristocratic public health system which, negating the liberal individualism which posits no authority higher than the self, affords wide-ranging powers to elite professionals capable of synthesizing their self-interest with the interests of others. These proposed systems intimate the wide variety of ends which public health can serve and exhibit the forms of governance which follow from any system founded upon medical expertise. In particular, these texts demonstrate that the benevolent care constitutive of the work of the medical practitioner, when taken as a model for government, both contradicts the exclusively self-interested principles of modern life and establishes a new basis for unequal distributions of power.

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