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Sensation and Professionalism in the Victorian Novel

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Mariaconcetta Costantini

This book explores the extent to which four sensation novelists responded to the Victorian theorizing of professionalism. A crucial period of redefinition of the professional ideal, the third quarter of the nineteenth century also witnessed the rise and the decline of the sensation novel, a scandalous and electrifying form that challenged aesthetic and socio-cultural standards. Owing to their controversial position in the literary marketplace, novelists like Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Charles Reade and Ellen Wood developed a keen interest in professional issues, which occupy centre stage in their 1850s-70s narratives. By drawing on a variety of sociological, cultural and philosophical theories, Costantini skilfully assesses the ideological implications of the genre’s fictionalization of professionalism. She shows how sensation novelists provocatively represented the challenges faced by both elite and rising professionals, who are used as narrative vehicles for thorny discourses on authorship, ethicality, aestheticism and sociocultural identity.
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Chapter 8: Challenging the Hippocratic Oath: ethics and the medical profession

Nineteenth-century medicine and the spirit of reform

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Chapter 8 Challenging the Hippocratic Oath: ethics and the medical profession

As we have seen in Chapters Six and Seven, the Victorian legal community supported a principle of normativity by redefining rules meant to counteract the human predisposition to crime and anarchy. Professionals in the legal and police system enforced these rules and set imitable codes of conduct. Nonetheless, narratives exposing their proneness to transgression and amoral agency attest to their occasional failures.

In the case of medicine, the arch-enemy was illness, and important advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases occurred during the nineteenth century. The traditional organization of the medical profession simultaneously underwent radical changes. The demands of the lower medical orders for higher status and opportunities posed new challenges to the whole professional body. Issues of trustworthiness and ethicality also troubled the medical community more than others. Owing to their direct responsibility for their patients’ health and lives, medical personnel were in fact constantly required to conform to vocational ideals that conflicted with influential laissez-faire principles permeating the redefinition of professional standards. Another challenge to doctors concerned the danger that scientific knowledge, pursued for its own sake, could divert attention from healing practices.

Medical practitioners appear frequently in Victorian novels, particularly in the third quarter of the century in response to innovations and dilemmas emerging then within the medical field. Because the medical profession had come to epitomize progress, it was increasingly perceived as problematic too. For these reasons, doctors...

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