The Birth of Imperial Race Medicine

Book review:

Seth, Suman. Difference and Disease: Medicine, Race, and the Eighteenth-Century British Empire. Cambridge: CUP, 2018. 324 pages. ISBN 978-1-108-41830-0. Pbk. £29.99.

Preserving Past Tastes

Book review:

Wall, Wendy. Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2016. 328 pages. ISBN 9780812247589. $69.95.

The Doctor’s Anatomy: The Androgynous Performance of Gender and (Neo-)Victorian Sexual Politics in Patricia Duncker’s James Miranda Barry

Patricia Duncker’s 1999 neo-Victorian novel is a fictional biography of the legendary Victorian military surgeon, James Miranda Barry, rumored to be a hermaphrodite. Duncker’s postmodern feminist fiction recreates the medical discourse, as well as the body and sexual politics of the Victorian era by writing these nineteenth-century somatic ideologies onto the ambiguously gendered body of Barry. Interrogating the poetic and political strategies of creating medicine as a masculinized profession from a cultural studies point of view, the essay argues that Duncker’s novel can be contextualized within a recent tendency in contemporary British fiction that could be hypothesized as medico-historical metafiction, indirectly addressing twenty-first-century biopolitical questions about the cultural inscription of gender roles and bodily normality by (re)telling a Victorian narrative. These questions are examined from three aspects: the neo-Victorian historical novel as a feminist genre, the androgyne as a late-Victorian subtype of the grotesque freak, and nineteenth-century female identities as the reservoir of disempowering pseudo-choices.  (EU)