PhD thesis, Durham University
“Sickness in Correspondence: gentry letter writing and the subject of health in eighteenth-century Yorkshire, County Durham, and Northumberland”
This thesis uses eighteenth-century gentry correspondence from Yorkshire, County Durham, and Northumberland to investigate how letter writers discussed sickness and managed medical treatments in the home. Letter writers went beyond expressions of concern and reassurances of good health in correspondence by providing details about the experience of falling ill, diagnosing conditions, choosing treatments, and caring for their sick relatives. The extent of household medical work in the eighteenth century is an understudied topic compared to earlier centuries. This thesis redresses the lacuna in research by analyzing caregiving, medical knowledge, and medical expertise to reconsider the structure of household medicine and the extent to which the household functioned autonomously during illness. Within these themes, the project has also addressed patterns of continuity and change, particularly in relation to gendered behaviour. Arguments about domestic healing as a female activity are mediated by the clear interest and involvement of their male relatives, and the emphasis on coexistence and cooperation between genders. Mediating between the survival of medical practice, the change in medical theories, and the gradual decreasing interest in discussing caregiving practices through correspondence allows this thesis to position the eighteenth-century household between earlier histories of household medicine and the spread of hospital medicine in the nineteenth century.