Thesis ID: CBB857758405

From Cure to Care: a Practical Theology of Health According to Jane Austen (2022)


Bishop, Jeffrey P. (Advisor)
Konerman-Sease, Jaime (Author)

Bishop, Jeffrey P.
Saint Louis University
Publication date: 2022
Language: English

Publication Date: 2022
Physical Details: 189

This dissertation explores Western medicine’s emphasis and cultural obsession with cures through the lens of incurable and chronic illness, specifically chronic fatigue. The comfort that many American’s take in medicine’s ability to cure bodily ailments breaks down when we come face to face with chronic and incurable illness. This is exemplified for patients with chronic fatigue who are ultimately abandoned by medicine. Evidence based medicine requires that illness have outwardly observable signs in order to reach a diagnosis and cure. Without the ability to diagnose and eventually attempt to find a cure, medicine is left with nothing much to do. Patients with chronic fatigue are then left on their own to learn how to care for their fatigued bodies. The inability to confidently diagnose people with chronic fatigue creates significant social barriers to community participation. Without a clear diagnosis or a physician’s direction, people with fatigue find it difficult to communicate what accommodations they need to continue to participate in community. Not only must people with fatigue manage their tired bodies on their own, they also must navigate a culture which expects that medicine will be able to cure them. Driving the isolation and exclusion of people with fatigue is a cultural obsession with cures. By exploring the history of medicine, I articulate a narrative which illustrates the shift from ancient Western medicine’s focus on care, balance, and management to modern scientific medicine’s emphasis on cure and control. This shift was largely due to what I call cure culture: the force of a growing public interest in the possibility of cure combined with a powerful consumer culture during the long 18th century. I turn to the critique of cure culture found within Jane Austen’s novels to reimagine a community which embraces care when cure is not available. Austen’s critique of cure culture is fundamentally theological – rooted in the Anglican focus on loving God and one's neighbor (neighbor love) through habits and virtue. The focus on neighbor love shifts the community understanding of health away from the scientific emphasis on the proper mechanistic function of the isolated body to health understood as right relationships. Thus, physical health is a means to the goal of living in right relationship with others and God. I draw on textual analysis of Austen’s novels Mansfield Park and Emma to identify how both individuals with chronic fatigue and communities they belong to can create an environment where fatigue can flourish. Exploring Mansfield Park’s heroine, Fanny Price, through the lens of disability and health reveals that developing virtue does not require good health. Fanny’s poor health certainly causes suffering, however her ability to reflect on her bodily and relational pain allows her to develop virtue beyond what her able-bodied acquaintances can develop. Turning to Emma, I explore how Emma’s relationship with her hypochondriac father Mr. Woodhouse in comparison with Frank Churchill’s relationship with his invalid aunt shape Austen’s understanding of community hospitality toward the sick and disabled. Emma reveals that communities have an obligation to accommodate the sick and disabled.

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Authors & Contributors
Adams, Ellen
Babcox, Emilie D.
Callard, Felicity Jane
Chess, Simone
Classen, Albrecht
Craton, Lillian
Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Circumscribere: International Journal for the History of Science
History of Religions
Journal of Medical Biography
Nineteenth-Century Contexts
Nineteenth-Century Studies
UCL Press
University of Michigan Press
Rutgers University
Boydell & Brewer
Brandeis University Press
Cambria Press
Medicine and literature
Disabilities; disability; accessibility
Human body
Medicine and religion
Austen, Jane
Dickens, Charles
Wordsworth, William
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
Jenner, Edward
Paracelsus, Theophrast von Hohenheim
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
13th century
16th century
20th century
Great Britain
Massachusetts (U.S.)
British Isles
National Institute of Health (U.S.)

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