An historical interpretation of the physician in American fiction: 1830--1935

Date of Completion

January 1990


History of Science|Literature, American




This study analyzes the images of physicians which appear in American fiction from 1830 to 1935 for their relationships to the evolution of medical science, the changes in artistic perspective, and the cultural alterations which accompanied them through time. The survey begins with James Fenimore Cooper, advances to his Romantic successors, progresses through the popular writers of the turn-of-the-century, and terminates with the works of the World War I and Depression writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Particular attention is paid to fictive women physicians appearing during the height of the suffrage movement, and to the distinctive doctor images created by physicians writing in the years under consideration.^ From this analysis it becomes clear that although the changing representation of physicians in American fiction is related to the functional shifts in the doctor's role as medical science advanced, the more substantive trends are those wrought by broader cultural issues and by the ideology and artistic preference of the individual writer. The physician images analyzed comprise a prototypical study of the culture of their time and a reflection of public and personal response to increasing professional authority and the depersonalization secondary to rapid growth and industrialization. The physician as character in American fiction is rarely unique because of his profession but is rather an example of the writer's interpretation of human response to contemporaneous cultural pressures. ^