chapter  5
22 Pages

New Women, Avenging Doctors: Gothic Medicine in Bram

WithStoker and Arthur Machen

This chapter begins with a crystallizing moment in late Victorian sexual and medical politics: the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts in 1886. While this decision marked an ostensible victory for the legal and physical autonomy of women, it also signaled a growing hostility between feminist agitators for women’s rights and the medical establishment. The repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts registered a severe defeat for the medical profession – a defeat with far-reaching consequences for the state medical regulation of sexuality. Frank Mort claims that “in the closing debates of the nineteenth century it was moralists and feminists who set the pace in the field of sexual politics,” a public wresting away of this field from medical doctors (109). The feminists’ seizure of control of the discourses surrounding female sexuality, in part through their successful agitation for the repeal of the Acts, informs my readings of several texts that alternately evince and revoke these political dynamics.