Mary Gifford

Mary Gifford



Thesis title: The Discourse of Medicine in the Works of Laurence Sterne (1713–68) and Tobias Smollett (1721–71) 1740–1760

Start year: 2011


Research topic

My research programme focuses on medical themes in the works of Laurence Sterne (1713–68) and Tobias Smollett (1721–71). In particular I am investigating the synergies between the eighteenth century development of clinical medicine and the discourse of medicine in their texts. I have chosen to concentrate on three main areas of medicine during the period 1740–1760: the rise of man-midwifery; naval and military surgery; and the professionalization of medicine in this period as these are some of the dominant medical themes in the novels.

In my investigation, I aim to build on the existing research in the field of literature and the history of medicine. But my particular emphasis is on the rise of clinical medicine, which as Michael Foucault (1926–1984) argues in The Birth of the Clinic (1973), was a long term process, and its presentation and negotiation in the early novel as represented by the works of Laurence Sterne (1713–68) and Tobias Smollett (1721–71). I also hope to glean further insights into the contribution of medical themes to the exalted status of the medium of the novel.

I aim to draw on the works of Michel Foucault and other writers in the history of medicine and the history of ideas to explore their perspectives on both the dynamics of the rise of clinical medicine and its significance in the wider context of the history of science. I shall investigate the synergies between subjectivity and objectivity in the eighteenth century novel and subjectivity and objectivity in the development of clinical medicine, for example narrative techniques, characterisation, and the creation of empathy in literature, as well as the changes in medical observation, medical language and power relations in medicine. I aim to contextualise the study by referring to primary sources from some of the leading physicians and surgeons of the time using the ideas of Foucault as a lens, or means of focusing my analysis.


Man Midwifery 1740–60, History of Naval/Military medicine 1740–60, Professionalization of Medicine, The Eighteenth Century Novel, Tobias Smollett, Laurence Sterne.

General research interests

History of Medicine, The Eighteenth Century Novel

Work in progress

The main medical influences on Tobias Smollett and Laurence Sterne, and the compilation of a map of their medical network.

Teaching experience

Field training roles in pharmaceuticals and the publishing industry.

Academic and professional training

  • BA (Hons) Humanities The Open University 2003–2006 2:1
  • MA Literature Open University. 2008–2010

Professional affiliations

  • Member of BSECs British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies.

Other experience and professional activities

I work as a Hospital Specialist Representative in Pharmaceuticals. As part of that role I update clinicians on the evidence base for new therapeutic agents.