In Edith Wharton’s 1917 novel Summer, Charity visits an abortionist in the city closest to her sleepy hometown in order to confirm her suspicion that she’s pregnant after an illicit summer love affair. Dr. Merkle, the woman who examines her, fulfills every early twentieth-century stereotype of an abortionist: she’s wealthy and crass; she has a foreign accent; and she tries to swindle Charity for as much money as possible during a brief visit that only results in a pregnancy confirmation and not an abortion. In her biography of Wharton, Hermione Lee supposes that Dr. Merkle might be Jewish. Dale Bauer links Dr. Merkle to stereotypes of German immigrants in the United States. Jennie Kassanoff furthers that analysis to observe that Merkle’s name is drawn from the Latin root that means “to decay,” and marks the character as “an agent of race suicide” (145). As Kassanoff also notes, the young...
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Book Review| November 01 2021
Female Physicians in American Literature: Abortion in 19th-Century Literature and Culture
Female Physicians in American Literature: Abortion in 19th-Century Literature and Culture. By Margaret Jay Jessee.
Routledge Focus on Literature Series,
2022. 92 pp. $59.95 cloth, $17.21 e-book.
Queens College, City University of New York
KAREN WEINGARTEN is an Associate Professor of English at Queens College, CUNY. Her first book was Abortion in the American Imagination: Before Life and Choice, 1880–1940 (Rutgers UP 2014). She is currently completing a book about the history and cultural significance of the pregnancy test. She writes about reproduction, abortion, and eugenics, and she is a regular contributor to Nursing Clio.
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Edith Wharton Review (2021) 37 (2): 182–186.
Karen Weingarten; Female Physicians in American Literature: Abortion in 19th-Century Literature and Culture. Edith Wharton Review 1 November 2021; 37 (2): 182–186. doi: https://doi.org/10.5325/editwharrevi.37.2.0182
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