Patriarchal Physicians and Dismembered Dames: Edgar Allan Poe and Nineteenth-Century Representations of Gender

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Patriarchal Physicians and Dismembered Dames analyzes how author Edgar Allan Poe utilizes nineteenth-century medical discourse to characterize the relationship between men and women in several of his Gothic short stories, namely, “Berenice,” “Ligeia,” and his detective fiction stories—“Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” and “The Purloined Letter.” My analysis is deeply rooted in the historical moment of Poe’ publications; thus, I establish the scientific and social happenings of Poe’s era to set the context for the remainder of the discussion. Focusing on Poe’s literature, I first analyze the medicalization of female bodies, particularly “Ligeia” and “Berenice” in the intimate sphere of marriage. I highlight parallels between the marriages in these two stories and the patient-doctor interaction to ultimately demonstrate that Poe is critiquing the social values that women were expected to uphold in the nineteenth century. I then re-evaluate this claim in Poe’s detective fiction, reviewing the implications of the medical gaze in Poe’s work in the more physical realm of the crime scene as opposed to the more emotional realm of marriage. I thoroughly discuss the similarities between the physical space of the detective crime scene and the doctor’s medical arena with the support of artwork, photographs, and other relevant depictions of medical practice. I argue that in this context both physician and detective exert the same type of masculinity that overpowers the women of Poe’s stories. In these detective stories, Poe is no longer critiquing but rather upholding the societal predispositions of women: the male characters successfully control the dead females. In my conclusion, I posit that the masculinities I previously explored are potentially more similar than different in this range of Poe’s works.






Chacon, Dahlia (2020). Patriarchal Physicians and Dismembered Dames: Edgar Allan Poe and Nineteenth-Century Representations of Gender. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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