Kari Nixon
Scholar of Medical Humanities and Victorian Literature




In this piece, I set Henry James Washington Square (1880) amid its scientific and financial backdrop to demonstrate that the protagonist’s father protects her from a fortune hunter not out of fatherly love, but because he treats her as fiscal investment returns. In making this case, I track the history of the development of obstetrics and the decline of midwifery in Jacksonian america, a history subtly intertwined with the history of germ theory’s development.

Publication Info: “‘A Speculative Idea’: The Parallel Trajectories of Financial Speculation, Obstetrical Science, and Fiscal Management of Female Bodies in Henry James’s Washington Square.Journal for Medical Humanities (2014).

Text-type Considered:


Texts included:

Washington Square (1880)

Conceptual Influences:

Michel Foucault, Evelyn Fox Keller




“Dr. Sloper was not alone in working deliberately and assiduously to carve out commercial space for himself as a physician; all physicians in the nineteenth century had to act in much the same manner in order to achieve financial stability—a dynamic most clearly illustrated by those who aspired to improve their love by hollowing out the obstetrical market-space for themselves.”