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Cover of Constructions of Cancer in Early Modern England

Constructions of Cancer in Early Modern England

Ravenous Natures


Author Information
Basingstoke (UK): Palgrave Macmillan; .
ISBN-13: 978-1-13-748752-0

The study of early modern cancer is significant for our understanding of the period’s medical theory and practice. In many respects, cancer exemplifies the flexibility of early modern medical thought, which managed to accommodate, seemingly without friction, the notion that cancer was a disease with humoral origins alongside the conviction that the malady was in some sense ontologically independent. Discussions of why cancer spread rapidly through the body, and was difficult, if not impossible, to cure, prompted various medical explanations at the same time that physicians and surgeons joined with non-medical authors in describing the disease as acting in a way that was ‘malignant’ in the fullest sense, purposely ‘fierce’, ‘rebellious’ and intractable.3 Theories seeking to explain why cancer appeared most often in the female breast similarly joined culturally mediated anatomical and humoral theory with recognition of the peculiarities of women’s social, domestic and emotional life-cycles. Moreover, as a morbid disease, cancer generated eclectic and sometimes extreme medical responses, the mixed results of which would prompt many questions over the proper extent of pharmaceutical or surgical intervention.


Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine

Series editors: Professor Sharon Ruston (Lancaster University, UK), Professor Alice Jenkins (University of Glasgow, UK) and Professor Catherine Belling (Northwestern University, USA)

Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine is an exciting new series that focuses on one of the most vibrant and interdisciplinary areas in literary studies. Comprising academic monographs, essay collections, and Palgrave Pivot books, the series will emphasize a historical approach to its subjects. The series will cover all aspects of this rich and varied field and is open to new and emerging topics as well as established ones.

Sharon Ruston is Chair in Romanticism and Research Director for the Department of English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University, UK.

Alice Jenkins is Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture at Glasgow University, UK. She is a co-founder and former Chair of the British Society for Literature and Science.

Catherine Belling is Associate Professor in Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Northwestern University, USA. She is also the Executive Editor of the journal Literature and Medicine.

Editorial Board:

Steven Connor, Professor of English, University of Cambridge, UK; Lisa Diedrich, Associate Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies, Stony Brook University, USA; N Katherine Hayles, Professor of English, Duke University, USA; Peter Middleton, Professor of English, University of Southampton, UK; Sally Shuttleworth, Professorial Fellow in English, St Anne’s College, University of Oxford, UK; Susan Squier, Professor of Women’s Studies and English, Pennsylvania State University, USA; Martin Willis, Professor of Science, Literature and Communication, University of Westminster, UK

© Alanna Skuse 2015.

The author has asserted her right to be identified as the author of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

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Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit

Monographs, or book chapters, which are outputs of Wellcome Trust funding have been made freely available as part of the Wellcome Trust's open access policy

Bookshelf ID: NBK349007PMID: 26937537DOI: 10.1057/9781137487537


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