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Medical History and the ‘Monster’

Medical history so often includes intersections and byways that seem to take us into folklore, fiction, and the Gothic imagination itself.

While researching “monstrous” births from the early 1800s, I came across the following reprint of Kirby’s wonderful and scientific museum: or, Magazine of remarkable characters. The story recounts a child “covered with long hair” and “grovel[ing] upon the ground” is fastened to a post like a dog. Described as “wild and ferocious,” the story resembles those of the dog children—but the narrative has been embellished with the tone and phrasing now made famous by the Gothic narratives from Udolpho onwards. The “gentleman” who reports the scene says “he never say so wild and wretched a spot as the situation of the poor hut where they reside” and that “A most horrible mystery seems to hang over the whole.”[i] The landscape, a repeated trope of wretched wildness, is imbued with mysterious overtones that have, mainly, to do with paternity.… Read the rest

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