Research recommondations for syphilis and prostitution in 19th-century Vienna
April 9, 2012 2:25 PM   Subscribe

Research-filter: Looking for reading recommendations on two topics: 1) syphilis in the 19th (and very early 20th) century, particularly tabes dorsalis, and 2) prostitution in Vienna during the same time period. (More broadly: the experience of serious and/or terminal illness during the same period; bonus points for information about women, particularly the emotional trauma of chronic pain, losing one’s beauty/youth/sexuality, etc.)

To give an idea of what I’m looking for: On the subject of syphilis, I’ve read Pox: Genius, Madness, and the Mysteries of Syphilis and Daudet’s In the Land of Pain (and have just ordered The History of Syphilis), as well as a few medical texts from that period. Regarding prostitution in Vienna, I’ve read the relevant sections of Zweig’s World of Yesterday, Gilman’s Difference and Pathology, and the entry for the Habsburg Empire in the Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work (vol. 1).
posted by scody to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Lesley Hall has a great website with tons of citations, as does Frank Mort's book Dangerous Sexualities.

Those are both primarily about British history.
posted by winna at 2:55 PM on April 9, 2012

Here is my comps list with the relevant books and articles. Again, they're all about Britain or the Commonwealth, but they probably have some good stuff in the bibliography. I know that when I was trying to do a comparison between French and English social health in the Great War there was a relative dearth of French sources - hopefully that won't be the case for Austria.

Prostitution and Victorian Society - Judith Walkowitz
"Compulsion, Voluntarism, and Venereal Disease: Governing Sexual Health in England After the Contagious Diseases Acts." - Pamela Cox
"Hauling Down the Double Standard: Feminism, Social Purity, and Sexual Science in Late Nineteenth Century Britain." - Lesley Hall
"Soldiers, Surgeons, and the Campaign to Combat Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Colonial India" - Douglass Pierce
"Unsexing Gonorrhea: Bacteriologists, Gynaecologists, and Suffragists in Britain, 1860-1920" - Michael Worboys
"Rereading the 1890's: Venereal Diseases as 'Constitutional Crisis' in Britain" - Phillippa Levine
"The Contagious Disease Acts Reconsidered" - F B Smith
"The British Popular Press and Venereal Disease During the Second World
War" - Adrian Bingham
"Sex, the State and the 'Scarlet Scourge': Gender, Citizenship and Venereal Disease Regulation in Australia During the Great War" - Judith Smart
Public Health and Social Justice in the Age of Chadwick 1800-1854 - Christopher Hamlin
"Palmitate or Permanganate: Venereal Prophylaxis Debates in Britain, 1919-1926" - S M Tompkins
posted by winna at 3:10 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: winna, thanks! I can already see that a number of those sources are likely to be extremely helpful.

Also, just to clarify: recommendations can be for texts that discuss the intersection of syphilis and prostitution in the 19th/early 20th century (as in winna's suggestions), but can also be for texts that discuss only one or the other.
posted by scody at 3:23 PM on April 9, 2012

Seconding Lesley Hall. "'The Great Scourge': Syphilis as a medical problem and moral metaphor, 1880-1916" might be of help.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:50 PM on April 9, 2012

Found as a reference in the wiki page for the Contagious Diseases Acts: Chapter 5: Syphilis between prostitution and promiscuity in Peter Baldwin. Contagion in the state of Europe, 1830-1930 (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:59 PM on April 9, 2012

=So I dug out my seminar paper and I don't have an online copy, but here are some of the other citations I had:

Committee for the Board of Health. Venereal Diseases in New Zealand, Report of the Special Committee of the Board of Health. Wellington: Government Printer.

Donkin, Brian. "The Prophylaxis of Venereal Disease" The Lancet, 27 January 1917. 163.

Gibson, Thomas. "The Final REport of the Royal Commission on Venereal Diseases." Public Health 30 (1916): 15-21.

Pankhurst, Christabel. The Great Scourge and How to End It. London: E. Pankhurst 1913.

Robertson, John "Observations on the Recent Report of the Royal Commission on Venereal Diseases" Public Health. 31 (1917) 121-125.

Scharlieb, Mary and F. Arthur Sibly. Youth and Sex. London: J. T. C and Co. 1919

White, Douglas. "The Prevention of Venereal Disease in Theory and Experience." The Lancet. 8 November 1919. 844-847.

Allen, Peter Lewis. The Wages of Sin. Chicago, U of C Press, 2000
Beardsley, E H. "Allied against sin: American and British Responses to Venereal Disease in World War I" Medical History 20:2 (April 1976) 189-202
Levine, Philippa. Prostitution, Race and Politics New York: Routledge 2003
posted by winna at 4:35 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

On prostitution in Vienna, the key text is Karin Jusek, Auf der Suche nach der Verlorenen: Die Prostitution im Wien der Jahrhundertwende (Vienna, 1994). There is an English summary in her article 'Sexual Morality and the Meaning of Prostitution in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna', in Jan Bremmer, ed., From Sappho to De Sade: Moments in the History of Sexuality (1989). (Amazon; Google Books.) Arthur Schnitzler's autobiography My Youth in Vienna is also relevant.
posted by verstegan at 4:40 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also some good quotes in Karl Kraus's Dicta and Contradicta. "Oh, the coarsely businesslike Berlin prostitutes! For his two marks the Viennese is accustomed to demanding spiritual devotion and the feeling of sole possession."
posted by verstegan at 4:54 PM on April 9, 2012

I've never written anything of substance about the topic, but if I had the time these are the texts that I'd be personally interested in:

"Working Girls: White-Collar Workers and Prostitutes in Late Weimar Fiction"
by: Jill S. Smith
The German Quarterly, Vol. 81, No. 4. (2008), pp. 449-470, doi:10.1111/j.1756-1183.2008.00031.x

"Libidinal economy, prostitution and consumer culture"
by: David Bennett
Textual Practice (2009), doi:10.1080/09502360903230912

But above all, I'd want to read this book:
Membranes: Metaphors of Invasion in Nineteenth-Century Literature, Science, and Politics
by Laura Otis
Johns Hopkins University Press (2000)

From the description:
"In Membranes, Laura Otis examines how the image of the biological cell became one of the reigning metaphors of the nineteenth century. At the heart of her story is the rise of a fundamental assumption about human identity: the idea that selfhood requires boundaries showing where the individual ends and the rest of the world begins. Otis focuses on the scientific and creative writing of four physician-authors: American neurologist S. Weir Mitchell; Spanish neurobiologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal, who won the Nobel prize in 1906 for proving that neurons were intact, independent cells; British author Arthur Conan Doyle; and Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud in fin-de-siècle Vienna. Membranes also compares the scientific and political thinking of German scientists Rudolf Virchow, the founder of cellular pathology and an active liberal politician, and Robert Koch, who discovered the bacteria that cause cholera and tuberculosis and whose studies of foreign bacteria provided a scientific veneer for German colonialism. Finally, the book presents a unique reading of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice.

Otis argues that belief in impermeable personal and national borders is increasingly dangerous. Defying the traditional boundary between science and the humanities, she concludes by proposing a notion of identity based on relations and connections."

It's a little broader than just syphilis and prostitution, but I'm pretty sure I first ran across it while doing some basic research into 19th century medical research into syphilis that was performed on prisoners, including especially prostitutes. At least, I think? I seem to recall having found a relevant passage via GoogleBooks in precisely that context and then having saved the citation for future exploration. But sometimes my memory deceives me.

In any case, it would seem to be decent background reading if nothing else.
posted by jann at 9:07 AM on April 10, 2012

In answering this question, I ran across Peter Gay's "Schnitzler's Century: The Making of Middle-Class Culture 1815-1914," which looks potentially relevant.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:22 AM on April 10, 2012

Just ran a research query through my normal channels to see about any other sources that look interesting and turned up the following:

• A very basic short text:

• A two-part article:
Australas Psychiatry. 2010 Feb;18(1):17-21.
Syphilis, sex and psychiatry, 1789-1925: Part 1.
Kaplan RM.
Australas Psychiatry. 2010 Feb;18(1):22-7.
Syphilis, sex and psychiatry, 1789-1925: Part 2.
Kaplan RM.

Other articles:

• "Images of the Prostitute in Czech Fin-de-Siècle Literature"
Kathleen Hayes
The Slavonic and East European Review
Vol. 75, No. 2 (Apr., 1997), pp. 234-258
Published by: Modern Humanities Research Association
Article Stable URL:

• "Salome, Syphilis, Sarah Bernhardt and the "Modern Jewess""
Sander L. Gilman
The German Quarterly
Vol. 66, No. 2, German-Jewish-Austrian Aspects (Spring, 1993), pp. 195-211
Published by: Blackwell Publishing
Article Stable URL:

• "The Nietzsche Murder Case"
Sander L. Gilman
New Literary History
Vol. 14, No. 2, On Convention: II (Winter, 1983), pp. 359-372
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Article Stable URL:

• "Gender and Anti-Semitism: Christian Social Women and the Jewish Response in Turn-of-the-Century Vienna"
Alison Rose
Austrian History Yearbook (2003), 34 : pp 173-189 Copyright © Center for Austrian Studies, University of Minnesota 2003 DOI: 10.1017/S0067237800020488
[Discusses syphilis]

Paul Reitter
Qui Parle
Vol. 11, No. 1 (Fall/Winter 1997), pp. 155-172
Published by: University of Nebraska Press
Article Stable URL:

• "Otto Weininger's Masculine Utopia"
Susan C. Anderson
German Studies Review
Vol. 19, No. 3 (Oct., 1996), pp. 433-453
Published by: German Studies Association
Article Stable URL:

• "A Speculum in the Text: Freud's "Katharina" and Maupassant's "Le Signe""
John Ireland
Vol. 113, No. 5, Comparative Literature Issue (Dec., 1998), pp. 1089-1110
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Article Stable URL:

• "Moral Panic and the Prostitute in Partitioned Poland: Middle-Class Respectability in Defense of the Modern Nation"
Keely Stauter-Halsted
Slavic Review
Vol. 68, No. 3 (Fall, 2009), pp. 557-581
Published by: Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
Article Stable URL:


Unruly Masses: The Other Side of Fin-de-siecle Vienna
Wolfgang Maderthanser and Lutz Musner, eds.
Berghahn (2008)

Jewish Women in Fin de Siècle Vienna
Alison Rose
University of Texas Press (2008)
[Discusses prostitution and anti-prostitution efforts and Anti-Semitism.]

Freud, Race, and Gender
Sander L. Gilman
Princeton University Press (1995)

Franz Kafka, The Jewish Patient
Sander L. Gilman
Psychology Press (1995)

Crime, Jews and News: Vienna, 1895-1914
Daniel M. Vyleta
Berghahn (2007)

Gender and Modernity in Central Europe: The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and Its Legacy
Agata Schwartz
University of Ottawa Press (2010)
posted by jann at 10:41 AM on April 10, 2012


• "Syphilis, Wives, and Physicians: Medical Ethics and the Family in Late Nineteenth-Century France"
Jill Harsin
French Historical Studies
Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring, 1989), pp. 72-95
Published by: Duke University Press
Article Stable URL:

• Bull Hist Med. 2003 Summer;77(2):332-66.
Ethics and experimentation on human subjects in mid-nineteenth-century France: the story of the 1859 syphilis experiments.
Dracobly A.

And I double-checked and the piece about medical experimentation that I was thinking of was not Otis, above, but rather this chapter from:

Man, Medicine, and the State: The Human Body As an Object of Government Sponsored Medical Research in the 20th Century
ed. Wolfgang Uwe Eckart
Franz Steiner (2006)
posted by jann at 11:33 AM on April 10, 2012

And further connected with some of the above links about syphilis, prostitution, Jews, and Anti-Semitism, Jay Geller discusses the Neisser case mentioned in that chapter, here, in his:

The Other Jewish Question: Identifying the Jew and Making Sense of Modernity
Fordham Univ Press (2011)
posted by jann at 12:05 PM on April 10, 2012

This exchange between Ferenczi and Freud was all that I could find that specifically mentioned tabes.
posted by jann at 12:21 PM on April 10, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers, everyone! Lots to look through.

Any direct accounts/personal narratives of living with late-stage syphilis (or even just chronic pain/terminal illness) and undergoing treatment also appreciated.
posted by scody at 12:55 PM on April 10, 2012

Response by poster: scody, are you familiar with the Wellcome Library?

I am now! Wow, thank you -- a real treasure trove.
posted by scody at 2:06 PM on April 10, 2012

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