Towards a 'Healthy Modernity'?:
Medicine and Medical Practice in Interwar Russian and Czech Literature and Cinema

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


From surgery to syphilology and caesareans to psychotherapy, interwar culture is rich in references to medicine and medical practice. Yet, despite the theme’s prevalence, related scholarship tends to focus on its presence in individual writers’ or artists’ work. Taking the Russian and Czech literary and cinematic contexts as case studies, this thesis sets out to address the wider phenomenon. Works of literature and film by major figures of the Russian and Czech interwar cultural scenes, such as Mikhail Bulgakov, Evgenii Zamiatin, Gustav Machatý and Vladislav Vančura, are analysed alongside works by lesser-known figures, such as Vladimír Raffel, Vikentii Veresaev, Nikolai Aseev and Noi Galkin.

Chapter One sets interwar medically themed literature and cinema in the combined contexts of the nineteenth century’s medical revolution; degeneration theory and the crisis of modernity; eugenics; the First World War; and the aesthetics and thematics of the interwar Avant-garde. The medical theme’s prevalence, it contends, resulted from the coincidence of a widespread desire for physical and spiritual regeneration with the rise of a medical profession that, for the first time in history, ostensibly had the power to assist. Chapters Two to Five each explore literary and cinematic portrayals of a different area of interwar medical practice. Chapter Two examines narratives about the bacteriological and epidemiological treatment of syphilis; long a cultural symbol of decadent modernity. Chapter Three explores narratives dealing with neurological and psychotherapeutic treatments for nervous illness, which was believed to be caused by industrial and technological modernity. Chapter Four analyses narratives of surgery, which engage metaphorically with the post-war project of remaking the world by radical and often violent means. Finally, Chapter Five examines narratives of medicalised childbirth, which reflect the period’s drive towards a literal and metaphorical societal renaissance.
Date of Award25 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SponsorsSouth, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership
SupervisorRajendra Chitnis (Supervisor) & Muireann Maguire (Supervisor)


  • Russian Literature
  • Czech Literature
  • Russian Cinema
  • Czech Cinema
  • Medical Humanities
  • Interwar Culture

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