Birthed from the Clinic

The Degenerate Medical Students of Edward Berdoe's St. Bernard's

in Critical Survey

This article reveals how Edward Berdoe's St. Bernard's: The Romance of a Medical Student (1887) critiques the evolution of medical science at the fin de siècle. Berdoe deploys the discourse of degeneracy to challenge the culture of medical education that produces monstrous medical students. St. Bernard's reflects not only the ambiguity towards scientific materialism and knowledge, which entails learning how to prolong life by encountering death, but also critiques the foundations of late Victorian medical education by articulating how the middle class was complicit in the horrors that the novel would expose, ultimately suggesting that middle-class health was built on the bodies of the poor. The text's ethical imperative to reform the medical establishment, however, derives its rhetorical power from provoking anxieties of corrupting middle-class health with working-class and pauper bodies. This reveals the novel's problematic use of degeneracy, as St. Bernard's reinscribes some of the very tenets about class that it aims to critique.

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