Authority, Authenticity and Reputation: An Introduction to Medical Paratexts
Tweed and Scott’s introductory chapter interrogates and contextualises the term ‘medical paratext’ within the fields of literature, pragmatics, and the history of medicine. The authors suggest that in a field where (often shifting) notions of authority, bodily autonomy and ethics are prevalent concerns, paratexts reflect and potentially shape wider anxieties about medicine and culture.
The chapter examines the case of Mary Toft, an eighteenth-century Englishwoman who became a medical marvel when she appeared to give birth to several rabbits. The circumstances of Mary Toft’s ‘births’, the responses of the medical professionals who attended her, and the sensationalist nature of the contemporary reports, reveal much about the state and development of the medical profession in the eighteenth century.
By focusing specifically on the intertextual and paratextual features of the various reports and accounts of the infamous case, Tweed and Scott demonstrate that features such as prefaces, correspondence and explanatory notes can provide insight into the competing professional agendas of the physicians involved. Furthermore, the paratexts highlight the role of the medical marketplace in eighteenth-century England and the increasing availability and importance of printed texts and pamphlets, which both supported and potentially undermined the medical profession.
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