Author(s): Moore, Wendy
At the beginning of the 1800s, surgery was a brutal affair. It was said of one acclaimed surgeon 'His surgical acquirements were very small, his operations generally very badly performed, and accompanied with much bungling, if not worse... It was lucky, therefore, for Lucas at least, that his deafness made him largely immune to his patients' dying groans'. If you needed to have a tumour removed or a leg hacked off, the most surgeons could offer by way of relief was a large swig of brandy. In addition, the medical profession was riddled with nepotism and corruption so that it was who - rather than what - you knew that was more important than knowledge. Into this arena came two ambitious young men. Thomas Wakley, founder of the new Lancet magazine, which aimed to 'lance the boil of corruption and malpractice that he had witnessed in the capital's hospitals and medical schools...but also to shed light on the best medical advances and scientific practice'. The second was John Elliotson, the dazzling and charismatic new hope of the medical world, a man determined to transform surgery from organised butchery into a practice backed by science. These two were avid consumers of the latest scientific views and findings. Together they promoted the idea of public hospitals that were more than slaughterhouses. But as with every dramatic rise, there came a fall. And that fall began in the summer of 1837, when a French visitor, the self-styled Baron Jules Denis Dupotet, arrived to promote the practice of mesmerism. It was a trend that was to take London by storm, but to split the medical world asunder, throwing into sharp focus fundamental questions about the fine dividing line between medicine and quackery, between science and superstition.
A fascinating history of the medical world in 1800s London, based around the concept of mesmerism and the life and times of its chief practitioner and champion, John Elliotso. This is an enjoyable piece of writing which serves up a delicious and curious slice of history.
Alicia, The Book Grocer
Wendy Moore is a freelance journalist and author. Her first book, THE KNIFE MAN, won the Medical Journalists' Association Consumer Book Award in 2005 and was shortlisted for both Saltire and the Marsh Biography Awards. Her second book, WEDLOCK, has been highly acclaimed in reviews and was chosen as one of the ten titles in the Channel 4 TV Book Club. HOW TO CREATE THE PERFECT WIFE was published to rapturous reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.