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The 2015 Pérez Galdós Lecture:

Galdós and Medicine


Dr Michael W. Stannard MB BS BSc PhD

(University of Exeter)


Galdós’s favourable representation of most doctors in his novels is widely recognized, and his friendships with leading medical men, above all with Manuel Tolosa Latour, are well known. Portraits of mental and physical disease abound throughout his novels, to an extent well beyond the frequency of other subjects that he researched as backgrounds for his fiction. In his revealing confession to Latour, he expresses profound admiration for what he sees as the potential of medicine to unravel the mysteries of human nature.

Despite these aspects of Galdós’s work and life, the depth of his interest in, and knowledge of, medicine has been insufficiently explored. This may be related to the scarcity of Galdós scholars with medical training and interest in the remarkable developments in medicine that occurred in the author’s lifetime, which are reflected in his writing.

My lecture provides an introduction to the medical context that Galdós drew upon as he wrote. I give examples to illustrate how detailed and up-to-date Galdós’s knowledge of some aspects of contemporary medicine was, with references to some of the leading medical men of his day. Such study not only enhances appreciation of Galdós’s writing, but also provokes admiration for his mastery of detail in the Realist genre to which he was dedicated.

Online version of the 2015 lecture

Michael W. Stannard

Michael grew up in Exeter Devon where he attended a local grammar school. He was awarded a scholarship to study at The London (now The Royal London) Hospital, University of London, in 1960.

Graduating there in 1966 he proceeded to further training and qualification in paediatrics, general medicine and diagnostic radiology. He visited the USA in 1974 to seek additional experience in paediatric radiology, and took fellowships at children’s hospitals in Toronto and Boston.

His intention to return to the UK was frustrated by a combination of professional and social issues, and the rest of his medical career was spent in the USA.

Working in the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Dallas, he met many Hispanic parents with little grasp of English and taught himself Spanish in order to be able to communicate with them. After a part-time MA in Spanish at Texas A&M University, he retired from medicine in 2001 and travelled to Europe spending 18 months in Spain in Salamanca where he took the DELE.

Returning to St Paul Minnesota for family reasons, he enrolled in the doctoral programme of Spanish at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and graduated PhD in 2011 with a dissertation on degeneration theory in Galdós’s Naturalist novels.

He has a particular interest in nineteenth-century peninsular literature and history with emphasis on the work of Galdós. He has found Galdós’s medical knowledge, as revealed in his novels and journalism, to be an under-explored field and has made it the topic of a recently (2015) published monograph published by Peter Lang, Galdós and Medicine.

He is an honorary research fellow in the History Department of the University of Exeter and lives with his wife, Becky, in a village 7 miles north of the city. He has two children, a son practising law in Atlanta, Georgia and a daughter teaching photography at an art institute in Perugia, Italy. When not studying, he enjoys hiking and photographing the Devon countryside, and making amends to his long-suffering wife now that his book is finally completed.

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