Kari Nixon
Scholar of Medical Humanities and Victorian Literature


Copy of Article Format


In this book, I explore the way the development and later widespread acceptance of germ theory at the end of the 19th century changed interpersonal relationships, provoking the vast majority of people into self-protective isolation that ushered in the era of looking out for “a number 1” that we have today. Along with this shift came the loss of a broader community-oriented mindset that sought a common good. Each chapter covers a different disease (black plague, strep, tb, syphilis, and typhoid) as a lens through which to explore a different interpersonal relationship changed by disease (sexual relationships, father-daughter, motherhood, friendship), while also considering the political questions each disease raised more broadly.

‘Kept from All Contagion’: Germ Theory, Disease, and the Dilemma of Human Contact in Late Nineteenth-Century Literature. Forthcoming, SUNY UP May 2020.

Text-type Considered:

Novels, periodicals, nonfiction scientific texts

Texts included:

  • Journal of a Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

  • The Last Man by Mary shelley

  • Washington Square by Henry James

  • The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

  • Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen

  • The Woman Who Did by Grant Allen

  • Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

  • The Well-Beloved by thomas Hardy

  • John Marchmont’s Legacy by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

  • East Lynne by Ellen Wood

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

  • The Story of a Modern Woman by Ella Hepworth Dixon

Conceptual Influences:

Giorgio Agamben, Bruno Latour, Michel Foucault, and many, many others.