Surgery and Emotion: The Era Before Anaesthesia

Michael Brown

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This chapter explores the place of emotion within operative surgery. Before the advent of anaesthetics in the 1840s, surgical operations were conducted with little or no pain relief and were attended with great suffering and emotional distress. It has generally been assumed that in order to cope with such challenges, surgeons developed a culture of dispassion and emotional detachment. However, building upon the insights of the history of the emotions, this chapter will demonstrate that the operating theatre could play host to a wide range of more complex feelings including fear, pity, and sympathy. Moreover, it suggests that any account of emotion in the history of surgery must take into account the politics of feeling and the ‘emotional regimes’ of the period.

© 2017 The Author. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of the History of Surgery
EditorsThomas Schlich
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-349-95260-1
ISBN (Print)978-1-349-95259-5
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2017

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