English, Department of


Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 37 (2006) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2019 (37)


The title of this study somewhat belies its range and ambition. Caldwell offers a compelling account of the connections between medicine, hermeneutics and theology in the early and midcentury, and uses these related disciplines as the bases of intriguing new readings of literary texts - unsurprisingly including Middlemarch. Caldwell brings to her work the (in literary studies) unusual perspective of a former practising doctor; this allows her to blend a sophisticated discussion of historical debates around knowledge and belief about the material and the divine in the nineteenth century with an immediate sense of the physical reality of medical treatments and doctor-patient relationships. Caldwell's main argument centres on the 'two books' metaphor of natural theology, which organizes knowledge of the world under the 'texts' of Scripture and Nature. These, she maintains, should be seen less as the polar opposites of historical cliche than as the elements of an ongoing, productive and unresolved dialectic, and she goes on to trace the presence of the two in a range of guises throughout the period covered in the book, coining the term 'Romantic materialism' to signify various writers' common engagement not just with the material and the godly but with the mind and body, narrative based and empirical knowledge and typology and concrete instance. One important part of Caldwell's argument is to take issue with Foucauldian accounts of the position of medicine in culture: she proposes a change of focus away from the idea of medicine as a disciplinary discourse, instead showing how the doctor-patient relationship may take the form of a productive dialogue between different orders of knowledge - especially between the 'objective' data yielded by the physician's examination of the patient, and that patient's subjective, socially situated account of his or her experiences. Caldwell connects this combination of different kinds of knowledge with the broader set of dialectics in nineteenth century culture characterized by the 'two books' metaphor.