Reading syphilis
The politics of disease
in Victorian demons
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Syphilis was a disease and a metaphor for disease at the fin de siecle, both a medical problem and a trope for social and cultural degeneration. At one level Ghosts is a play about hereditary syphilis. Jonathan Hutchinson saw syphilis as amplifying what was an inherent tendency within the male subject to manifest disease. Alfred Cooper's Syphilis develops the view that men should not be specifically identified as the purveyors of the disease because they are also its most frequent victims. Cooper's treatise is marked by a reactionary politics which is partly manifested in his unqualified support for the Contagious Diseases Act. It is by his questioning of a perceived bias which he saw as characterising the disease in earlier medical texts. Max Nordau relocates Henrik Ibsen's conception of syphilis, but in the interests of a conservative politics, and critiques Ibsen by focusing on the mind rather than the body.

Victorian demons

Medicine, masculinity and the Gothic at the fin de siecle


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