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Picturing Women's Health 1750-1910

A One-Day Postgraduate Interdisciplinary Conference

University of Warwick, Saturday 22nd January, 2011

Organised by: Francesca Scott, Ji Won Chung and Kate Scarth


“One hears sometimes of a child being ‘the picture of health;’ now Emma always gives me the idea of being the complete picture of grown-up health. She is loveliness itself Mr. Knightley, is not she?”

Jane Austen, Emma, chapter 5


The conference Picturing Women’s Health 1750-1910 will explore the interface of diverse discourses that constructed ideas about women’s health during the Romantic and Victorian periods. In these years, writers and artists documented extraordinary discoveries and advancements in science, anatomy, and medicine.  This inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary conference will examine the vicissitudes of attitudes towards women’s ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ bodies over the one-hundred-and-sixty year period. In particular, conference papers will consider representations of the female body in fictional/non-fictional literature, fine arts, and visual media and how they reflected or influenced women’s understandings and experiences of their own health and bodies.


Possible approaches could include:

How did different women’s testimonies or documentations of health relate to each other? How accurately or inaccurately did men and women artistically portray the female body in health and illness? How were scientific and artistic ideas about women’s health in dialogue? What is the relationship between the representation of woman’s body and her (in)ability to perform certain familial and social roles? How are contemporary critical debates on Romantic and Victorian public and private spheres complicated by the periods’ representations of women’s health?


Key topics could include (but are not limited to):

Madness and hysteria




Motherhood and wifehood

Birth and breast-feeding

Pregnancy, birth-control, and abortion

Fashion (dress, cosmetics, decoration)

Exercise and well-being

Un/healthy spaces (including spa and resort towns, hospitals, slums, factories, home)

Age (childhood, puberty, menopause)

Illness and disease (venereal diseases, disabilities, disfigurations)    

Death and grief (terminal illness, death of spouse or child, execution)

Medicine (diagnosis, prescription, treatment)

Medication and surgery

Health and superstition

Metaphors of health

Definitions of health