The Patrician Malady
Porter, Roy
Rousseau, G.S.
Date published: 
September 1998

Gout has fascinated medical writers and cultural commentators from the time of ancient Greece. Historically seen as a disease afflicting upper-class males of superior wit, genius, and creativity, it has included among its sufferers Erasmus, the Medici, Edward Gibbon, Samuel Johnson, Immanuel Kant, and Robert Browning. Gout has also been the subject of powerful medical folklore, viewed as a disease that protects its sufferers and assures long life. This dazzlingly insightful and readable book investigates the history of gout and through it offers a new perspective on medical and social history, sex, prejudice, and class, and explains why gout was gender specific. Roy Porter and G.S. Rousseau investigate medical thinking about gout through the ages, from Hippocrates and Galen through Paracelsus and Harvey to Archibald Garrod in the Victorian era and beyond. They discuss the cultural, moral, religious, and personal qualities associated with gout, examining social commentary, personal writings, cartoons and visual arts, and imaginative literature (including novels of Dickens, Thackeray, and Joseph Conrad). Weaving together all these threads, the authors provide a disease history that integrates the medical and the moral, the scientific and the humanistic, the verbal and the visual across an impressive sweep of time. In an era in which we are fascinated by the ways that disease and health are represented by medicine and the media, an era in which the dialogue between patients and doctors over the naming and blaming of diseases is more intense than ever, this book offers a telling historical commentary on many of our major concerns. Roy Porter is Professor of the Social History of Medicine at the Wellcome Institute, University College, London. He is the author or coauthor of many books, including The Facts of Life, published by Yale University Press. G.S. Rousseau is Regius Professor of English at King's College Aberdeen and in 1998-2001 a Leverhulme Trust Fellow working on literature and medicine.