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Committee Members: Deborah Clarke (Chair), Christine Holbo, Marlene Tromp. :: ABSTRACT: The Female Patient: American Women Writers Narrating Medicine and Psychology 1890-1930 considers how American women writers, including Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Zelda Fitzgerald, Sarah Orne Jewett, Edith Wharton, and Gertrude Stein, use the novel form to examine medical culture during and after the turn of the 20th century. These authors insert the viewpoint of the woman patient, I argue, to expose problematics of gendered medical relationships and women's roles in medicine, as well as the complexities of the pre-Freudian medical environment. Issues such as categorizing and portrayal of mental illness, control and perception of the patient through treatment, women's alternative medical practices, addiction, and the immigrant and minority patient are all examined. In doing so, the goal of revising medicine's dominant narratives and literature's role in that objective may be achieved. Authors using the subjectivity of the patient help to refigure perspectives of women's medical and social encounters. Utilizing historical record and sociocultural theorizing, this dissertation presents the five women authors as essential in creating new narratives of modernity and ways of understanding medical experience during this time.
The first chapter utilizes Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Zelda Fitzgerald's work to frame a trajectory of women writers who use illness narratives to subvert experiences of physical and psychological control toward a more positive, creation-centered approach. Both women respond to the figure of the husband and the attempts at a medicalizing of the mind and captivity of the body through production of narrative. The second chapter presents Sarah Orne Jewett's novella The Country of the Pointed Firs as the author's reflection on the medical environment and emerging psychological theories in New England in the 1890s and provides a new conception of the medical sphere as one where alternative and women's practices can co-exist. The third chapter discusses Edith Wharton's 1905 novel The House of Mirth and the presence of addiction as a significant subtext. I position Wharton as commenting on the modern woman, the presence and ethics of autonomy and who holds power, and how social structures interact with medicine. In the final chapter, Gertrude Stein's 1909 novel Three Lives is used to consider the male gaze in medicine based on Stein's experiences in medical school, and the way the gaze constructs an invisibility of immigrant and minority women.