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‘Written of by novelists’: scripting and managing emotions in 19th-century medical manuscripts
  1. Courtney E Thompson
  1. History, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS 39762, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Courtney E Thompson, History, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS 39762, USA; cthompson{at}


Literary and medical historical scholars have long explored the work of physician–writers and the cross-pollination of literature and medicine. However, few scholars have considered how these interactions have shaped medical manuscripts and the echoes they contain of the emotional contours of the medical encounter. This essay uses the papers of Southern physician Andrew Bowles Holder (1860–1896) to explore how the emotions of the physician were managed at the bedside and in the aftermath of medical encounters through recourse to literary thinking. Holder, like many 19th-century physicians, was an avid reader with an interest in literary endeavours, and his manuscripts reveal the influences of literature on his work as a physician. This article frames the bedside as a theatre of emotions, in which Holder’s performance and management of his emotions was key to his professional identity. His literary interests thus provided him with two tools: first, literature provided him with models for how to respond to and record different kinds of medical encounters, particularly deaths, near-death experiences and childbirth; second, his mode of keeping these records, which included the production of poetry as well as medical prose, served as a technology of coping, further allowing him to manage his emotions by exorcising them on the page.

  • literature and medicine
  • cultural history
  • physician narratives
  • medical humanities

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  • Funding Mississippi State University funded this research.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, conduct, reporting or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.