Harlots and televising the realities of eighteenth-century English prostitution
Brig Kristin and Clark Emily J.
Unlike many period dramas, Harlots, a Hulu original show, does not feature professional medical practitioners, despite frequent references to medicine, disease, and death. Instead, the show’s writers weave the history of medicine into the everyday lives of its characters. Through a close reading of ‘Episode Two’, season one, we argue that Harlots decentres early modern medicine by portraying how syphilis and its bodily effects formed a regular part of life for Londoners. Building on historical studies of medical drama and period pieces, we use Harlots to consider the effect of depersonalised or sensational representations of disease in scholarship and popular fiction. By eschewing the perspectives of professional healers and moralists found in most studies of early modern venereal disease, Harlots reminds us of the everyday lives of sufferers and the women who acted as lay healers and medical experts. Harlots’ reenactment of the material realities of sex work invites viewers to consider the dynamics of a disease that was simultaneously stigmatised and commonplace. The syphilitic character appears for the first (and last) time in this episode; Mary Cooper, we are told, was once a prostitute of great renown. By the time viewers see her, it is through the lens of illness; we become part of the public space that observes and makes meaning of her diseased body. As with the episode’s other characters, we are forced to confront our own notions of gender, sickness, and profession, and the stigmas attached to each.
Byrne Katherine, Taddeo Julie Anne, and Leggott James
This Introduction provides an overview of the collection of chapters, situates the book within the existing scholarship on medical television, and argues for the relevance of period TV in presenting the history of medicine as well as engaging with contemporary fears and debates about disease, the body, scientific research, professionalisation and the power of ‘the expert’, and more. A brief description of each chapter and the dramas under analysis (Outlander, Poldark, The Knick, Mercy Street, La Peste, A Place to Call Home, Penny Dreadful, Peaky Blinders, etc.) is provided.
Science, faith, the law, and the contested body and mind in The Frankenstein Chronicles and The Alienist
The Frankenstein Chronicles (2015–2017) and The Alienist (2018–) belong to an expanding group of stylish nineteenth-century-set gothic mystery/crime dramas that variously combine history, fiction, and fantasy. They share common themes connected to class, social change, morality, morality, and gender, especially masculine crisis, but also a particular fascination with the body and the mind. Both are characterised by graphic scenes of violence, death, and disturbingly vivid depictions of human cadavers, alongside exploration and interrogation of troubled minds and tortured souls. Significantly, they are set against a backdrop of social reform and changing attitudes towards scientific progress and innovations in medical practice, The Frankenstein Chronicles during the first half of the century, and The Alienist during its final years. But progress and the pre-eminence of science are frequently problematised as those in pursuit of radical advancement are often morally ambiguous and prone to corruption. This chapter explores the resulting tensions between science, faith, politicians, and agents of the law. Furthermore, it engages with the series’ preoccupation with the nature of monstrosity and morbid spectacles of human vulnerability. It will argue that the body and mind are pivotal in the struggle between competing forces and that both are consistently contested and conflicted.
This chapter considers the portrayal of medical practices and practitioners in the 1970s British historical drama When the Boat Comes In, produced by the BBC between 1976 and 1981. Set in the depressed town of Gallowshields in north-east England, and spanning the period from World War I to the Spanish Civil War, When the Boat Comes In is perhaps best remembered for its charismatic central character Jack Ford (James Bolam), but this chapter pays attention instead to the broader ensemble of characters. In particular, it focuses upon the character of Billy Seaton (Edward Wilson), first introduced as a trainee doctor. As time progresses, we follow Billy’s completion of his studies and his moral dilemmas about the community role of the ‘good doctor’. Although When the Boat Comes In is not remembered as a ‘medical’ drama, this chapter notes how many of its plotlines hinge upon health crises or questions, in a way comparable with other long-running serial dramas such as Poldark (1975–1977; 2015–2019) and Downton Abbey (2010–2015). But more than just providing historical texture or the motor for melodramatic turns of events, the medical issues woven into When the Boat Comes In are crucial to the show’s conceptualisation of conflicts between collectivism and individualism, and between socialism and capitalism.
This chapter explores the depictions and representations of early twentieth-century surgical procedures in Casualty 1900s (2008–2009) and The Knick (2014–2015). These two dramas encourage a focus upon medicine that moves away from dominant images of Victorian surgery, to instead focus on key surgical developments introduced during the first decade of the twentieth century. Building upon the foundational idea that surgical knowledge is constituted by the visual, this discussion draws out the different ways that medical looking and learning is presented in these shows. Given the visual medium of television, there are certain challenges and opportunities for depicting and commenting on the nature of the ‘clinical gaze’. This builds towards an argument for the ‘surgical gaze’, which consists of different layers of looking, from surgeon, student, spectators, and audiences, and is complicated and manipulated by different surgical spaces, such as the theatre, auditorium, or viewing balcony. Engaging with representations of knowledge discovery and circulation, this chapter concerns the depiction of, and participation within, surgical education. Discovery and experimentation are often central, so it becomes a case of simultaneous discovery for both the surgeon and the audience: even the viewer can come away having learnt something new. The blending of the contemporary medical drama with the historical genre serves to heighten the immediacy and emergency of the surgical situations, opening up the subject matter and stylistic possibilities for historical drama.
Televised historical portrayals of women’s shifting roles in medicine
Fogel Jennifer M. and Sutherland Serenity
Claire Randall Fraser, the heroine in Diana Gabaldon’s time-travelling book series Outlander and its television adaptation, practises as a nurse, healer, and physician in backdrops where women have historically struggled for recognition as bona fide medical practitioners. In settings such as eighteenth-century Jacobin Scotland, pre-Revolutionary France, colonial America, World War II European battlefronts, and 1950s–1960s Harvard University, Claire’s medical acumen proves she is a talented healer despite the frequent scepticism and disapproval of those around her. In all time periods Claire finds herself, she must negotiate the gender politics and cultural expectations of women’s gendered roles, which often results in Claire taking a stand to defend her medical expertise. This chapter examines the ways in which Claire utilises her medical skill – holistically and scientifically – as an avenue of agency and survival, and assesses the ways in which Outlander utilises communitarian ideology to service Claire’s modern-day progressivism and romanticise the historical narrative. The show’s presentation of gender politics across three centuries reminds historians of the back-and-forth shifts women have made as practitioners in medicine and science.
Gender, nostalgia, and the making of historical heroines
In the decade from 2008–2018, television networks and streaming services were noticeably captivated by the stories of real and fictitious nurses set in historical hospitals – some iconic, some forgotten, and others only imagined or fleeting in their existence. Although these historical medical dramas featured large ensemble casts of hospital staff and patients, their leading characters and protagonists were all women who worked as nurses in the eras concentrated between the 1860s and the 1920s. These hospital-based series have contributed to the public historical consciousness and literacy by disseminating both a multi-dimensional experience of space, time, and people in the past, but also by facilitating an emotional connection to the human condition of those who lived, worked, and struggled in familiar ways through unfamiliar circumstances. Despite the ‘Netflix effect’ that aimed at illuminating lesser-known regional or national locations and events, television series from the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, Spain, and Australia still offered familiar depictions of historical nurses across time and place. The tensions between tradition and progress, religion and science, nurses and doctors, women and men serve to drive dramatic television storylines, but often, they also serve the audience’s nostalgic desire to imagine a shared past as it might have been. By engaging with theoretical and empirical studies of gender, nostalgia, and the historical representation of nurses, this chapter illuminates how creators and audiences have collaboratively reimagined the past as a transnational social commentary for the present.
Citizenship is shown to be central to the reconstruction of the foundational economy on morally defensible grounds. This is because the foundational economy is, at heart, a system of social citizenship. Reversing the degradation of this system has to begin by linking the reform of the foundational to our present understanding of what is socially required to function as a fulfilled human person. It must also challenge the elision of citizenship with the entitlements of the current inhabitants within the jurisdictional boundaries of the nation state. Rebuilding the foundational economy has to do more, however, than concentrate on human persons. It has to recognise that the business institutions central to the foundational economy are juridical persons, and as such should operate under a developed system of both entitlements and duties.
The well-being of Europe’s citizens depends less on individual consumption and more on their social consumption of essential goods and services – from water and retail banking to schools and care homes – in what we call the foundational economy. Individual consumption depends on market income, while foundational consumption depends on social infrastructure and delivery systems of networks and branches, which are neither created nor renewed automatically, even as incomes increase. This historically created foundational economy has been wrecked in the last generation by privatisation, outsourcing, franchising and the widespread penetration of opportunistic and predatory business models. The distinctive, primary role of public policy should therefore be to secure the supply of basic services for all citizens (not a quantum of economic growth and jobs). Reconstructing the foundational has to start with a vision of citizenship that identifies foundational entitlements as the conditions for dignified human development, and likewise has to depend on treating the business enterprises central to the foundational economy as juridical persons with claims to entitlements but also with responsibilities and duties. If the aim is citizen well-being and flourishing for the many not the few, then European politics at regional, national and EU level needs to be refocused on foundational consumption and securing universal minimum access and quality. If/when government is unresponsive, the impetus for change has to come from engaging citizens locally and regionally in actions which break with the top down politics of ‘vote for us and we will do this for you’.
An overview of the book’s argument is provided, followed by summaries of the argument of the succeeding chapters. The post-1945 national practice of economic policy has been about making ‘the economy’ work to deliver jobs and growth of market income. In consequence, policymakers have neglected the social infrastructure underpinning everyday activities and practices which are vital to civilised existence and human well-being. This book is about two key advances: the creation of a networked infrastructure of pipes and cables, and the development of the modern welfare state. Together, they have effectively extended the entitlements of citizenship and added more than 25 years to urban life expectancy.