Romance, Poetry, and Surgical Sleep: Literature Influences Medicine

Papper, Emanuel

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey
  • Date of entry: Feb-03-1997


Dr. Papper, a revered figure in the field of anesthesiology, questioned why it took so long for anesthesia to be "discovered": after all, pain and suffering existed long before the mid-nineteenth century. This book is a result of Papper’s graduate studies in literature and history and explains his thesis that "societal concern with pain and suffering, and the subsequent development of surgical anesthesia in the Romantic era . . . are outgrowths of Romantic subjectivity."

The book provides biographies of scientists, physicians and poets, such as Humphry Davy, Thomas Beddoes, Sr., Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley, along with analyses of Romantic poetry as related to pain and suffering. Papper theorizes that the exchange of ideas amongst these intellectuals and the political upheavals of the time paved the way for society to recognize that the pursuit of happiness could include the relief of pain.


Two excellent books referenced by Papper also provide historical and cultural explanations of the timing of the discovery of anesthesia (A Calculus of Suffering: Pain, Professionalism, and Anesthesia in Nineteenth Century America, by M. S. Pernick; The Culture of Pain, by D. B. Morris; both are annotated in this database).

Primary Source

Contributions in Medical Studies, Number 42



Place Published

Westport, Conn.



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