april n. patrick TEACHER & SCHOLAR

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West 54th Street | New York City, New York
april.patrick@gmail.com

Dissertation Abstract

In this project, I revise current histories of women's experience with breast cancer in nineteenth-century Britain, including assumptions that women remained silent about the disease, through an interdisciplinary study relating medicine to three genres in the nineteenth century—medical nonfiction, personal nonfiction and life writing, and fiction—noting the ways those genres address and incorporate experiences with breast cancer. Though the three genres I have identified seem distinct, the dissertation will argue for connections that bring them together through the genre category of breast cancer narratives. The project recovers primary texts that relate to breast cancer in the period, some of which have been published with little (if any) discussion of the impact of breast cancer on the text. Many others, however, have remained unpublished and have been recovered from archives and libraries for the purposes of this project. In discussion and analysis of those texts, I put theories from three main fields of knowledge—gender studies, disability studies, and literature and medicine—into conversation with one another. [read more]

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Digital Humanities Project

As a researcher and teacher working in 19th-century periodicals and poetry, the absence of poetry in the Wellesley Index is a well-known concern that has resulted in a lack of comprehensive resources for locating and studying poetry published in periodicals. To address the absence of such a resource, I am working with two co-editors (Natalie Houston and Lindsy Lawrence) on a digital humanities project titled Periodical Poetry: An Index of Poetry in Nineteenth-Century Periodicals.

Periodical Poetry indexes English-language poetry published in nineteenth-century periodicals, including texts by nineteenth-century British and American poets, poets from earlier periods, and poems in English translation. In its initial phase, Periodical Poetry does not index poems quoted in periodical essays, reviews, or fiction. Periodical Poetry does not provide full text of the poems; rather it offers full bibliographic citations as well as other information such as first lines, poetic form, length, and notes on illustration and other poem features. This information will be available for users to access through searching and browsing.

The first version of Periodical Poetry indexes over 2,000 poems from Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (1824-1900), Cornhill Magazine (1860-1900), Eclectic Review (1805-1868), and Macmillan’s Magazine (1859-1900). Later phases in the project will cover the remaining titles and years included in the Wellesley Index, and future versions will further expand the titles and years included in the index.

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Conference Abstracts

British Women Writers Conference, 2011 - Curious Medical Narratives: Breast Cancer and Woman’s Experiences with Medicine of the 1890s

Maria Edgeworth’s 1801 novel Belinda presents one of the most famous accounts of breast cancer in nineteenth-century fiction, and speculation about a variety of symbolic meanings for Lady Delacour’s breast cancer scare appears throughout scholarship on the novel. Many scholars agree, however, that Edgeworth’s portrayal of Lady Delacour’s fear of doctors and experience with medical treatment reflects the experiences of many women in early nineteenth-century medicine. In this paper, I explore the connections between such fictional representations of breast cancer and the realities of medical treatments for women in the 1890s, the decade in which William Halsted’s radical mastectomy became the medically preferred treatment for breast cancer.

In my discussion of those connections, I focus on Katharine Tynan’s 1898 short story “Willie,” which tells the story of single mother Judy Carroll and her seven-year-old son, described as the “poorest of the poor” (761). Judy’s breast cancer not only fictionalizes the issues of social class and public health as part of a larger discussion on the pages of The Speaker, but it also introduces into the conversation the unique concerns facing women patients. Judy’s decision to undergo a mastectomy is based on the hope that she can remain healthy enough to raise her son for a few more years, but when her cancer returns in the other breast, she hides the diseased breast from the doctor and avoids additional treatment. Along with “Willie,” I consider Tynan’s 1895 essay “Some Reminiscences of Christina Rossetti” from The Bookman. Rossetti was a friend and a literary mentor to Tynan, and her 1894 death from breast cancer inspired Tynan to produce the memorial essay. Published just three years apart, Tynan’s fiction and nonfiction texts explore larger issues related to women’s experiences with breast cancer in the final decade of the nineteenth century.

I contextualize Tynan’s depictions of breast cancer through parallel readings of medical texts about the illness written by male doctors in the same period. In particular, I focus on W. Watson Cheyne’s The Objects and Limits of Operations for Cancer (1896) and Stephen Paget’s Essays for Students (1899). Cheyne reviews a century of mostly ineffective cures for cancer and concludes that Halsted’s radical mastectomy is the most effective treatment thus far. He emphasizes the importance of early detection and suggests that women patients are more likely to seek medical advice earlier in the process if they trust their doctors. Paget addresses methods for reassuring and calming women patients who mistrust doctors. His text differs from many medical books about breast cancer in that he incorporates the women’s words into the included case studies, noting how the women describe their symptoms in an effort to help doctors recognize breast cancer by listening to their patients.

Based on the corresponding readings of Tynan’s two texts and medical nonfiction by male doctors, I complicate the often-simplified narrative of the rise of the radical mastectomy at the end of the nineteenth century and present a more complete picture of women’s perspectives on the dominant medical procedure.

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Research Society of Victorian Periodicals Conference, 2010 - "Not to keep it concealed": Coverage of Breast Cancer in Victorian Women's Periodicals

In the 2 August 1875 issues of The Ladies’ Treasury, Mrs. Warren, the periodical’s editor, continues a piece titled “The Useful Book” from the July issue. This installation focuses on “A Cure for Cancer,” as Mrs. Warren collects commentary from several issues of another periodical and makes it accessible for her audience of women:

A correspondence has been going on for some time in the English Mechanic relative to a cure for cancer, which it is there asserted can be cured without surgical operation. Cancer is such a deadly and much-dreaded disease that anyone knowing of a cure ought not to keep it concealed. (98)

Though this opening only considers cancer more generally, the excerpts Mrs. Warren has selected focus specifically on breast cancer and potential non-surgical cures for it. She draws her information from English Mechanic, an inexpensive periodical that targeted a male audience of non-specialists that were interested in science. By making details about possible cures for breast cancer available in her periodical, Mrs. Warren offered her women readers important knowledge that related to their own bodies. Rather than blindly relying on her husband’s or doctor’s suggestions for treatment, the woman reader of The Ladies’ Treasury—like those of other women’s periodicals—was armed with powerful knowledge in the case that she or anyone she knew faced breast cancer.

In his entry on “Medicine and Journalism” for the Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism, Andrew King divides medical journalism into five categories, which include:

first, the orthodox professional medical journals run by doctors for doctors….[second] contributions by the medical profession written in general magazines for a lay audience[, t]hird…are pieces on medical or medicine-related matters by lay writers for a lay audience[, f]ourth,…the 'fringe' medical press whose contributors were usually heterodox medical practitioners[, and fifth] is material provided by or concerned with quacks which comprises mainly, but not exclusively, advertising.

For this paper, I focus my discussion of breast cancer on periodicals in the second and third of these categories, which are aimed at a general, or lay, audience. More specifically, I consider articles about breast cancer in women’s periodicals written by both medical professionals and lay writers. In my reading and analysis of these pieces, I argue that the discussion of breast cancer in women’s periodicals is one of the only ways women of the Victorian period—who represented nearly all of the cases of breast cancer—were educated about the disease.

I will request the opportunity to use issues of The Ladies’ Treasury (from 1875 and 1883) and The Girl’s Own Paper (from 1898) from the Yale University Library to illustrate the placement of discussions of breast cancer in the issues in relation to other topics.

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British Women Writers Conference, 2010 - Breast Cancer in the Nineteenth Century: Narrating the Journey through Diagnosis, Treatment, and the Aftermath

Nearly every literary or medical history discussion of breast cancer in the nineteenth century relies on the story of Frances “Fanny” Burney to demonstrate the ‘typical’ experience of women facing breast cancer in the period. Burney’s experiences were narrated in a letter written nine months after her mastectomy and sent from Paris to her family in London, and though the letter is striking with its graphic detail, her journey through the experience of breast cancer was far from typical for women of the nineteenth century. The primary difference is that Burney’s journey lasted far longer than most women because she lived a remarkable 29 years after her mastectomy in a time when such an operation extended the lives of most patients by two or three years at the longest. Though her experiences were far from ordinary, Burney’s narrative has come to represent a century of women’s personal and medical journeys as many of the other breast cancer narratives from the period have been all but forgotten.

In this discussion of narratives about breast cancer in the mid-nineteenth century, I rely on the experiences of two women writers who faced breast cancer, Emily Gosse and Annie Keary, as published in memoirs after each woman’s death by members of her surviving family. Emily Gosse, writer of religious tracts, found a lump and was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 1856, began alternative treatment by a quack doctor in May 1856, decided to discontinue that treatment in December 1856 after the cancer continued to spread, and eventually died from the illness in February 1857. Her husband Philip Henry Gosse described the journey in graphic detail, quoting often from Emily’s letters and journal, in an 1857 book titled A Memorial of the Last Days on Earth of Emily Gosse, By Her Husband. Novelist and author of children’s literature, Annie Keary was diagnosed in March 1878, had a mastectomy shortly after, enjoyed a brief period of wellness, and eventually died exactly a year after the initial diagnosis in March 1879. In the 1882 Memoir of Annie Keary, By Her Sister, Eliza Keary incorporates a number of letters and journal entries as well as her own personal involvement to describe Annie Keary’s journey through the illness.

I use these two examples, out of many more narratives reviewed in my larger dissertation project, to illustrate some of the standard features of a woman’s experience with breast cancer after she discovered a lump in her breast. Additionally, these two narratives represent some key differences in the journey based on a woman’s personal situation (especially class and marital status) and decisions throughout the process (including initial choices about treatment). Based on these examples that so clearly differ from the experience of Fanny Burney, I argue for a revised model for the journey through breast cancer in the nineteenth century that includes Burney’s experience as just one of many narratives.

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Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, 2009 - How to Live and Grieve: Instructions from Early Victorian Women’s Memorial Poetry

For many women of the Victorian period, the poetry published in periodicals represented a network of influence that provided models for performing femininity. Though scholars have explored the instructional nature of the writing in women’s periodicals, these studies have yet to acknowledge the ways memorial poetry published in women’s magazines presents guidance to readers through the lives of both the deceased women subjects and the living memorial poets. For example, in a November 1838 issue of Court Magazine and Monthly Critic, and the Lady's Magazine and Museum includes a poem “To the Memory of Mrs. Caroline Acton,” in which Miss Agnes Strickland writes of her subject:

Thy gentle heart and liberal hand
Dispensed to all relief;
Thou had’st a gift for every want,
A tear for every grief. (17-20)

Strickland then describes the limits of her own mourning by promising that Acton’s “shall flourish unforgot” (24), but she explains that despite remembering Acton “[f]orbear for thee to weep” (26). Throughout this memorial poem, like many others included in the ladies’ magazines, Strickland presents Acton as a model of feminine virtue and herself as a model of proper mourning.

In this paper, I explore the memorial poetry that was published in the early Victorian ladies’ magazines of the 1830s and 1840s and two of the models presented within those poems, including those for living one’s life with virtue and generosity and mourning friends with proper grief.

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North American Victorian Studies Association & British Association for Victorian Studies Joint Conference, 2009 - “Our Sense of National Loss”: Collective Memory and Royal Death, 1861-1865

After the death of Prince Albert in December 1861, language of collective memory spread throughout Victorian society, especially in periodicals published shortly after his death. To contextualize the widespread grief felt across the nation, many writers compared the situation to the death of Princess Charlotte in 1817. In its 28 December 1861 issue, The Queen made explicit this comparison in an article focused exclusively on the similarities between the two: “The universal sorrow manifested at the untimely death of the Prince Consort, reminds everyone of the profound grief exhibited by the English people on losing their royal darling, the Princess Charlotte.” The importance of this connection in the minds of the Victorians is evident through a study of the extensive periodical coverage of the death of Princess Charlotte in the months and years immediately following Prince Albert’s 1861 death, including essays in Macmillan’s, John Bull, The Lady’s Newspaper, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, The Children’s Friend, The Morning Chronicle, Daily News, Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, The Examiner, and many others.

In this paper, I use Victorian periodicals to trace the language of collective memory in the years immediately following the death of Prince Albert. Specifically, I focus on how Victorians understood their grief in the early 1860s in relation to the grief felt after Princess Charlotte’s death in 1817. Similarly, as many scholars have recently noted, discussion of Princess Charlotte’s death also followed that of Princess Diana in 1997 as the world struggled to understand its grief over her death. Through comparisons made by the Victorians in the years 1861 through 1865 and more recent understandings of collective memory theory, I argue that using past grief over Princess Charlotte to contextualize present grief over Prince Albert allowed the Victorians to perform what Freud described Mourning and Melancholia as the “work of mourning.”

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British Women Writers Conference, 2009 - “A Sentence of Death Had Been Passed on Her”: Breast Cancer and Friendship in Victorian Women Writers, 1875-1895

The story of Fanny Burney’s 1811 mastectomy is widely referenced as an example of the struggle with breast cancer in the nineteenth century and the radical mastectomy before anesthesia. Burney’s case, however, was quite unusual for two reasons: first, the operation allowed her to live cancer-free for another 30 years, and second, Burney wrote of the operation in graphic detail to her friend Esther assuming that she would share the situation with their other friends. For women of the nineteenth century, a mastectomy would generally prolong life for a few more years at most, and few would openly name the cancer let alone describe the operation in such detail. Burney’s letter to Esther describes thoughts of her friends as the operation approached:

Ah, then, how did I think of my Sisters! - not one, at so dreadful an instant, at hand, to protect - adjust - guard me - I regretted that I had refused Mlle de Maisonneuve - Mlle Chastel - no one upon whom I could rely - my departed Angel! - how did I think of her! - how did I long - long for my Esther - my Charlotte !–

This lament over refusing the companionship of friends demonstrates the importance of friendship in the process of recovery and connects Burney’s situation with other nineteenth-century women relying on friendship in the face of breast cancer.

In this study, I concentrate specifically on the two decades between 1875 and 1895, during which time both Annie Keary and Christina Rossetti died after painful battles with breast cancer. Using memoirs published about Keary and Rossetti and excerpts from personal correspondence, I illustrate the situation of the woman with breast cancer during this period: her exact diagnosis and treatment remain a private matter among close friends and family, but she cannot confront the disease alone. Then, continuing with the examples of Keary and Rossetti, I argue for the importance of connections between women in the face of breast cancer. Specifically in these two examples, each woman had unrelated female friends who remained by her side during her painful treatment and eventual death.

Finally, I also argue for a horizontal connection across time, which connects women coping with breast cancer in the nineteenth century and today. Though we can talk more openly about the struggle with breast cancer over a century later, the importance of connections between women remains central in the breast cancer awareness movement today. Organizations like Breast Friends, the Susan G. Koman foundation, and the many support groups illustrate the continuing need for friendship in the face of this painful disease.

Throughout this paper, the connections operate in two directions: vertically bonding friends coping with diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer and horizontally linking the experiences of women from the nineteenth century through today. By exploring the intersections of these vertical and horizontal connections, the experiences of women writers in the nineteenth century illuminate responses to breast cancer today.

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Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, 2008 - Periodical Mourning: The Character of the Woman Author as Created in Victorian Elegies and Obituaries

In his elegy for W. B. Yeats, W. H. Auden observes how the subject of the elegy is transformed in death to match the description offered by his poetic mourners, and he likens the elegiac creation of someone to a type of verbal cannibalization, explaining, “The words of a dead man / Are modified in the guts of the living” (22-3). Essentially, through the (usually) fond memories evoked in the memorial of an individual, writers and mourners can, through performative language, create and define the remembered character of that subject. Periodical culture clearly illustrates this theory when the deceased figure is publicly mourned through published memorials—both prose obituaries and poetic elegies—and thus the character is created in the minds of a broad readership.

In this essay, I apply Auden’s theory to the elegies and obituaries for George Eliot and Christina Rossetti that appeared in British periodicals and then to analyze the impact of form (poetry or prose), gender of the writer of the memorial, and medium (the periodical and its intended audience) on the characters created in the memorials. Considered together, Eliot and Rossetti serve as useful examples because both were well known and widely read authors during their lifetimes. Many of the obituaries and elegies for them create the persona of the woman author in a way that emphasizes her gender over her literary accomplishment. Through specific examples of memorials published for Eliot and Rossetti in British periodicals and the characters created in them, I both investigate the problematic nature of contemporary views about women and authorship in the Victorian period and consider how these views developed in and spread through elegies and obituaries published widely in periodicals.

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British Women Writers Conference, 2008 - “[S]he that lives must mourn”: Dual Marginality in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Memorial Poetry

From the 1751 publication of Grey’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” the memorial as a poetic expression of mourning grew in popularity, whether for the death of an individual or even for a more general loss. In the following century, memorials continued to flourish as a poetic practice; however, literary studies of nineteenth-century elegies and memorials focus on male poets composing these memorials and generally overlook the memorial poetry written by women and for deceased women.

A simple search of the MLA International Bibliography demonstrates the imbalance in literary scholarship. The search terms [1800-1899] and [English literature] and [memorial or elegy] produce 261 results (excluding dissertation abstracts) that mostly discuss the memorial poetry of males—Swinburne, Tennyson, Grey, Hopkins, Keats, W. Wordsworth, D. G. Rossetti, Hardy, P. B. Shelley, Robert Browning, Matthew Arnold, and others. The few exceptions include essays on the memorials for George Eliot and Princess Charlotte as well as essays on Felicia Hemans’s elegiac poetry, Dora Wordsworth’s journals, Amy Levy’s poetry, Catherine Gore’s novels, and Mary Shelley’s elegy on her husband. While the two lists may seem closely balanced, each of the male authors actually appears in multiple entries (some more than ten or fifteen entries), while the females each appear in one or two entries at most that rarely include a woman writing on the death of another woman. A closer study of women’s memorial poetry—especially those poems composed on the deaths of other women writers—illustrates the large amount of work that is mostly overlooked in the scholarship represented in the above search.

Throughout the nineteenth-century, women poets wrote and published many elegies and memorials, including Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “L. E. L.’s Last Question,” C. G. Rossetti’s “L. E. L.,” Charlotte Mew's "A Farewell" (for Christina Rossetti), Michael Field’s “To Christina Rossetti,” Emily Jane Pfeiffer’s “The Lost Light” (for George Eliot), and Lisa Wilson's poems for Christina Rossetti. Through a brief study of these poems, I demonstrate the dual forms of marginality apparent in the poetic tradition of nineteenth-century women’s memorial poetry--first through the form and content of presenting a poetic portrayal of the margin between life and death and then through the more recent marginalization of women’s elegies in the field of literary scholarship.

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