Masters of Healing: Cocaine and the Ideal of the Victorian Medical Man

Small, D. (2016) Masters of Healing: Cocaine and the Ideal of the Victorian Medical Man. Journal of Victorian Culture, 21(1), pp. 3-20. (doi: 10.1080/13555502.2015.1124798) (PMID:27110213) (PMCID:PMC4819571)

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This article offers a new perspective on the relationship between cocaine and medical practitioners in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Britain. Cocaine is often understood as one of a number of potentially addictive substances to which Victorian physicians and surgeons were regularly exposed, and tempted to indulge in. However, while cocaine has frequently been associated with discourses of addiction, this article proposes that it was also widely represented as a technological triumph, and that the drug was frequently used as a symbol for the scientific and moral virtues of the medical man himself. The argument draws on popular journalism, medical publications, and fiction to establish the cultural context of cocaine at the fin-de-siècle. In 1884, cocaine was revealed to be the first effective local anaesthetic, and this article traces the processes by which cocaine came to be regarded as the iconic achievement of nineteenth-century therapeutic science. This aura of innovative brilliance in turn communicated itself to the medical professionals who employed cocaine in their work, so that many patients and practitioners alike depicted cocaine as most fitting emblem for the idealised selfhood of the modern medical man. This idea also informs portrayals of the drug in fiction, and I conclude with a detailed analysis of L. T. Meade’s 1895 short story, ‘The Red Bracelet,’ (published in The Strand Magazine as part of Meade’s series, ‘Stories from the Diary of a Doctor’) as an example of the way in which cocaine functions as metaphor for the physician’s unassailable moral primacy, as well as his aesculapian exceptionalism.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Small, Dr Douglas
Authors: Small, D.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Journal Name:Journal of Victorian Culture
Publisher:Taylor & Francis
ISSN (Online):1750-0133
Published Online:06 January 2016
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2015 The Authors
First Published:First published in Journal of Victorian Culture 21(1): 3-20
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
698141Masters of Healing: Cocaine and the Idealised Victorian Doctor (Actual PI = Douglas Small)David ShuttletonWellcome Trust (WELLCOME)108549/Z/15/ZCRIT - ENGLISH LITERATURE