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Murderous Midwives and Homicidal Obstetricians

Ever since the publication of Frankenstein, the Gothic has been read as an expression of the fears associated with scientific, technological, and medical advances. This essay argues that obstetrical medicine, from midwifery to obstetrics, is the most Gothic of medical pursuits because of its blurring of boundaries between male and female, natural and supernatural, mechanical and organic, life and death. From subterraneous passages to monstrosity, the professionalization of obstetrics over the course of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth reads like a Gothic novel. Tracing the parallels between the Gothic aesthetic and several fictional and quasifictional accounts of obstetrical ‘stories’ - from the Warming Pan Scandal of 1688 to the work of Scottish obstetrician William Smellie and man mid-wife William Hunter - this essay demonstrates the Gothic nature of reproductive pursuits.

Gothic Studies