LSHTM Seminar: Medicine, Work, and Emotions in Mid-Century Mills & Boon Novels

Wednesday October 17th 2018

LSHTM Seminar: Medicine, Work, and Emotions in Mid-Century Mills & Boon Novels
Marguerite Lees, 'Stevie, Ward Sister' (Mills & Boon, 1962). Cover Art: Jack Faulks

Research Fellow Agnes Arnold-Forster will be delivering a seminar at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine's Centre for History in Public Health. Her talk, which is free and open to all, will take place on 17 October 2018, from 12.45 pm – 2.00 pm, in Room LG8 of the Keppel Street Building.

Her paper, 'Medicine, work, and emotions in mid-century Mills & Boon novels', will explore how romantic fiction was used to mediate medical knowledge and cultivate the ‘emotional landscape’ of the hospital in mid-20th-century Britain.

Throughout the century, and particularly from the foundation of the NHS onwards, storylines set in hospitals turned the pages of English-language novels. Yet, despite the prevalence of romantic medical themes in popular culture, historians of medicine and emotions in modern Britain have only partially addressed this rich and wide-ranging source material.[1] This paper will, therefore, use ‘Doctor-Nurse’ romances published by Mills & Boon between 1948 and c.1970 to show how romantic medical narratives were a widely-consumed way for patients and members of the lay public to access the inner worlds of healthcare and hospitals.

Mills & Boon strove to create romantic but always authentic worlds. Thus, these texts were invariably written by women with nursing experience. Reading the novels alongside the extensive correspondence between authors and editors contained in the Mills & Boon archive allows us to access both fictional and real hospitals and explore the working and romantic lives of the men and women who inhabited them.

Agnes will argue that emotions were central to the expectations patients had of their practitioners; the development of medical stereotypes and identities; and to the relationships between different professionals. Finally, because medical women read and wrote these romances, this talk provides an unusual insight into female nursing, freelance and creative labour; as well as the consumption of ‘low-brow’ culture, and its influence on gender identity and conceptualisations of healthcare, romantic love, and sexuality in postwar Britain.

[1] For example, J. Miller, ‘Passionate Virtue: Conceptions of Medical Professionalism in Popular Romance Fiction’, Literature and Medicine, 33 (2015), 70-90.

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