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As one of America’s most prominent physicians in the Gilded Age and a successful novelist, S. Weir Mitchell sought to secure the professional reputation and authority of scientific, clinical medicine. Historians have given great attention to the ways that his treatment of women suffering from exhaustion or nervousness reinforced and created highly restrictive, gendered norms; more recently, historians have explored how Mitchell’s literary career augmented and echoed his approach to medicine. This article extends the historical analysis of Mitchell’s literary career by examining one of his lesser novels, Circumstance. Through the novel’s protagonist, an archetypically virtuous physician, and the antagonist, a cunning woman looking to con her way into a life of ease, Mitchell expresses a concern for exposing malingering and fakery that echoes his work in an Army hospital during the Civil War, his “Rest Cure” treatment of nervous women, and the policy debates among social reformers about how to identify and treat charity frauds and the chronically idle.

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Ageless Arts


Southern Association for the History of Medicine and Science



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