Chapter

Jack the Ripper and the Family Physician

Vike Martina Plock

in Joyce, Medicine, and Modernity

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print January 2010 | ISBN: 9780813034232
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813038803 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5744/florida/9780813034232.003.0008
Jack the Ripper and the Family Physician

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In “Penelope,” James Joyce uses a controversial debate on women's so-called diseases as a provocative intertext for the representation of Molly Bloom's sexuality. Her recollection of a gynecological visit, which took place in 1888, responds explicitly to the complex turn-of-the-century discourse that related womanhood, pathology, and social politics. Further, it recalls fin-de-siècle fears about medical abuse that were most sensationally captured in the image of Jack the Ripper. While doctors multiplied the number of surgical operations performed on women's anesthetized bodies, feminists and antivivisectionists ferociously condemned both the ideological foundation for and the consequences of the mutilations resulting from doctors' surgical interventions. Surprisingly, though, as “Penelope” reveals, the argument about women's social inferiority that the biological model had established received support by another, much more subtle medical interventionism. Patent medicine forms an equally central medical subtext in “Penelope”.

Keywords: Penelope; James Joyce; gynecology; Molly Bloom; sexuality; Jack the Ripper; social inferiority; biological model; medical interventionism; patent medicine

Chapter.  10235 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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