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Conceiving the Gothic: Embryology, Obstetrics, and the Gothic Novel, 1764-1820 is the first book-length study to argue that the Gothic novel in Britain emerged, at least in part, from a distinct embryological point of view and that the Gothic’s flourishing into the early nineteenth century can be explained as a response to significant changes in the reproductive landscape, including a new conception of fetal formation and development and the professionalization of the male obstetrician. Conceiving the Gothic argues that the Gothic novel can be defined as “epigenetic” literature in its focus on internal, organic, and democratic forms of biological and aesthetic origination; this epigenetic point of view emerges with increasing complexity in both the form and content of the novel over the course of its roughly 30 years of popularity in Britain. Blending literary analysis and the history of medicine to demonstrate that the reproductive body is not only a key signifier, but also a material reality upon which medical authority and the Gothic were built, this book offers fresh perspectives on works such as Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and Charles Robert Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). This study also includes a chapter that traces the real-life stories of famous obstetricians William Smellie and John Hunter, arguing that their reputations and their work have important parallels with the trope of the Gothic villain, signifying the intellectual traffic between science and art. The poster will provide a visual representation of the parallel trajectories of the Gothic novel, the rise of the obstetrician, and the acceptance of epigenesis among embryologists. The poster will show that as Radcliffe’s, Shelley’s, and Maturin’s novels become increasingly engaged with reproductive controversies, their form becomes increasingly epigenetic and Gothic. Providing analyses of both literary and medical texts, this study offers a new perspective on the origins of the Gothic and an example of the fruitful nature of interdisciplinary research.


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  • Subject
    • English

  • Date submitted

    18 July 2022

  • Keywords
  • Additional information
    • Author Biography:

      Diana Edelman-Young is Assistant Professor of English specializing in British Romanticism, the Gothic novel, and literature and medicine. Edelman-Young recently published "Chubby Cheeks and the Bloated Monster: The Politics of Reproduction in Mary Wollstonecraft's _Vindication_" in the _European Romantic Review_, a journal supported by the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism. Edelman-Young has been working full-time on her book manuscript, _Conceiving the Gothic_, traveling to London and Scotland for research while supported by two institutional grants, the Presidential Semester Scholar Award and the Presidential Summer Scholar Award.