Medical romances: imperialism, nationalism, race and gender

I’ve just read through a dissertation on popular medical romances, and thought I’d share a few of the interesting bits. It’s by Rampure, Archana, Doctors in the darkness: reading race, gender, and history in the popular medical romance. Thesis (Ph. D.)–University of Toronto, 2005.

 Jo Mielziner_Doctor's Dilemma New York Public Library Digital Library

Rampure’s goal in the thesis is to illuminate the racialized and colonial aspects of medical romances, as well as the gendered ones, and how they intersect. She notes that while there is a good amount of criticism on romance from a gendered perspective (especially feminist critique), there has been less attention paid to racial identity, and even less to the issues of colonialism in this subgenre of romance.

The author identifies as a romance reader and fan.  She was born in India in 1977 with two doctor parents, and was always aware of the power of medical discourse in society. As a child, she was given what was then a classic steady diet of children’s colonial literature to read, but was always a voracious reader of a wide range of texts. She “really encountered North American popular culture” when her parents moved to Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, and shares a memory of buying a box of 500 old books in Red Water in 2000, containing Anne Vinton’s The Hospital in Buwambo, Juliet Shore’s Doctor Memsahib and Jane Arbor’s Desert Nurse. These days, if my Google fu hasn’t failed me, Rampure works as a researcher for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.


Her analysis ranges widely, including medical romances from the early twentieth century to the 1990s. She looks at romances published in England and North America. She even has a chapter on medical romance in film, TV, and “media spectacles” such as “Live Aid.” Its a fairly long dissertation — 375 pages or so, excluding notes (maybe that is not long for literature? It’s long for philosophy!). I’ll just share a few interesting bits.

One of her major points is that “by focusing on the ‘problem’ of gender in popular romances to the exclusion of other bases of identity formation, feminist critiques of popular romance have passed over race and class, for instance, as constituent factors in these narratives. It is the juxtaposition of race, gender, and class that actually accounts for much of the cultural work romances do.” (p. 87).
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