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Some medical syndromes encountered in nineteenth-century French literature
  1. Margaret M Platts
  1. Retired Physician, Sheffield


    The medical content of a hundred selected French novels written between 1815 and 1914 has been examined. These books reflect contemporary public interest in medicine and disease. By means of translated quotations, the spectrum of diseases common at the time, including conditions nowadays rarely or never observed, such as smallpox and diphtheria, are graphically described, along with the effects of treatment of syphilis with mercury and the ravages of tuberculosis including lupus vulgaris. Some diseases which were not understood in the nineteenth century such as cretinism due to iodine deficiency may be recognised by the modern reader while other illnesses, convincingly described, are now unidentifiable. In the novels one can trace the transition from the humoral theory of disease to modern diagnoses and the advent of surgery and its complications. These extracts complement textbooks of the history of medicine by third-party depiction of the observed impact of disease upon the individual.

    • Disease
    • nineteenth-century French novel

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    • Margaret M Platts is a Retired Physician, living in Sheffield. Email: Margaret.Platts{at}

    • Author's note

      Dates in the text after the titles of novels are those of first publication. Dates in the references are those of publication of the edition cited.