Cold, Hard Steel: The Myth of the Modern Surgeon

Manchester University Press
Publication year

With regards to romance, the book draws on material from Arnold-Forster's 2021 article. Chapter 2, "Surgeons in film, fiction, and on TV screens," includes a section on "'Doctor-Nurse' romances."


this book is not a history of surgical ideas, surgical innovation, or even a history of surgical practice. It is, instead, a history of surgeons (both fictional and real) – a social, cultural, and emotional history that offers a new narrative of the surgical identity. (from the Introduction)


As this is partly a history of work and professional identity, I have drawn on sociologies of labour and organisational change. I have also used literary analyses of medical fiction and surgical memoirs alongside cultural studies of film and television.


The question of whether or not surgeons and other healthcare professionals should inform patients, particularly those with terminal illnesses, of their diagnoses, was a live topic in the 1950s and 1960s, and Ovens was not alone in thinking that perhaps it might be best to keep the dying in the dark. In 1960, romance novelist and ex-nurse Elizabeth Gilzean proposed a book to the publishing house, Mills & Boon, in which the heroine dies from cancer but is never told her diagnosis. She got the idea from Arthur Hailey's 1959 novel, The Final Diagnosis, and she thought that the ethical dilemma of whether healthcare professionals should inform patients of terminal prognoses well suited to the romance genre. However, Gilzean's potential publishers were not so certain that this question would make for thrilling escapism. Their concerns did, however, acknowledge the powerful influence romance fiction could exert on the attitudes and behaviours of readers. The editor of the magazine Woman's Day 'felt that the idea might give anxieties to many patients in hospital'. (from Chapter 1)

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