Textual “Piqûres”: Vaccination in the Hands of Nineteenth-Century French Writers

This essay explores nineteenth-century French texts that depict Jenner’s vaccine, highlighting the ways in which literature and print culture played a significant role in vaccination’s diffusion by conveying, challenging, and even mocking the impact of the new preventative treatment and its scientific rationale. By examining accounts of the vaccine found in medical treatises, popular journalism, theatrical parody, and poetry, this essay argues that Jenner’s discovery crucially provoked social commentary, stylistic experimentation, and meta-discourse as writers on both sides of the issue specifically attended to the mechanics of thought and the usage of rhetorical devices. This essay thus identifies how the vaccine was mobilized by French writers to discuss not only public health and social well-being, but also human understanding and forms of expression.

Margot Szarke
University of California at Berkeley