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The healing power of words: medicine as literature in Bernard Mandeville's Treatise of the hypochondriack and hysterick diseases

Abstract : In the prefatory notes to his definitive edition of The Fable of the bees, Frederick Kaye wrote: ‘I have not passed these last years in Mandeville’s company without an ever-deepening certainty of his literary greatness’, leaving it to future generations of scholars to expound this aspect of Mandeville’s work. Kaye certainly had the complex literary enterprise of the Fables in mind, but it is surely Mandeville’s only medical treatise that best illustrates the literary qualities he is referring to. Constructed as a dialogue between an empirical doctor and two patients (a married couple), the Treatise, resorting to satire and dramatisation, is a way for Mandeville to demonstrate his literary talent as well as his opinions about medical science, but it also represents the cure itself. To Mandeville, this intimate conversation with the patient, carefully con- ducted by the physician and in which the patient is invited to tell the story of his own disease, is the very key to his recovery. In this, Mandeville’s Treatise is no doubt a paradox, using the tools of literature (as opposed to what Mandeville sees as the empty and bloated rhetoric of rational medicine) to cure an illness that was widely considered as a ‘disease of the learned’ caused precisely by an excess of reading.
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Contributor : Sylvie Kleiman-Lafon <>
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Sylvie Kleiman-Lafon. The healing power of words: medicine as literature in Bernard Mandeville's Treatise of the hypochondriack and hysterick diseases. Voltaire Foundation, Oxford. Medicine and narration in the eighteenth century, 2013, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth century. ⟨hal-01418894⟩

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