Mr. not Dr.
June 6, 2013 5:46 PM   Subscribe

In the novel "Middlemarch", why is the young doctor referred to as Mr. Lydgate, whereas the other doctors are called Dr. (e.g. Dr. Minchin)?
posted by eurasian to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Is he a surgeon? Apparently if he is a member of the Royal College of Surgeons he would be Mr. instead of Dr.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 5:57 PM on June 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Lydgate is indeed a surgeon, which is somewhat less genteel than being a physician--hence the rage he inspires in both the Middlemarch physicians and surgeons by refusing to "dispen[se] drugs" (which was expected of a surgeon, but not a physician). Lilian R. Furst briefly explains the distinctions involved & the resulting scandal here, pp. 68-70.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:24 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I thought he was both a surgeon and a physician?
posted by eurasian at 8:34 PM on June 6, 2013

There is a passage (looking at an e-book, but roughly ~p. 50-ish?) that deals with Lydgate's status in this regard: his desire to bring together the surgical and medical professions, his education in Paris and the "high standard held up to the public mind by the College of Physicians, which gave its peculiar sanction to the expensive and highly rarefied medical instruction obtained by graduates of Oxford and Cambridge". I took this to mean that not being Oxford/Cambridge educated, he was not a "real" doctor.
posted by Lorin at 9:06 PM on June 6, 2013

Fwiw in Britain both veterinary surgeons and dental surgeons are called Mr not Dr. It's not related to Oxbridge.
posted by anadem at 10:04 PM on June 6, 2013

In the modern UK, senior doctors, whether medical or surgical are called consultants and drop the Doctor title.

I seem to remember this was a small plot point when Alex Kingston joined the cast of ER and her character introduced herself as "Miss Corday", rather than "Doctor Corday".
posted by tonylord at 12:21 AM on June 7, 2013

tonylord isn't quite right. In the UK, after taking the FRCS exam all qualified surgeons call themselves Mr or Miss. Most gynaecologists and obstetricians do the same as historically they took surgical exams. All MRCP qualified physicians stick with Doctor, as do all doctors who aren't members of a Royal College. Vets and dentists previously could not use the term Doctor, but have been allowed to over about the last 5 years.
posted by roofus at 1:14 AM on June 7, 2013

Yes I'm aware. I was simplifying for those with no need for the full information.
I think that "senior doctors" covers your description.
posted by tonylord at 5:25 AM on June 7, 2013

Response by poster: Oh dear... what a can I've opened. But in summary, Lydgate is a surgeon, not a physician? Or a physician NOT sanctioned from the College of Physicians?
posted by eurasian at 1:20 PM on June 8, 2013

I've done a stupid amount of reading Victorian medical journals, and some of the problem is that the terms we use today are so different from what they meant then. A Victorian surgeon was not someone who cut people open and did complicated surgeries (and had a big ego and a god complex and all those other surgeon stereotypes of today).

A surgeon was someone who did all the gross stuff that physicians didn't want to do, and what was included in that collection depended on the geographical area (scythe wounds vs. hands crushed in industrial machines), the needs of the local populace, and what, exactly, local physicians were unwilling to do. Lancing boils, amputations, cauterizing wounds-- that was surgeon work. As thomas j wise pointed out, they were also often de facto pharmacists.

Physicians, on the other hand, were considered men of the mind, whose practice was more art than butchery. They diagnosed illnesses, prescribed medication (as opposed to mixing and making it), and took care of people from the cradle to the grave. A surgeon got called in occasionally for trauma incidents, maybe, but physicians took care of chronic illnesses, pregnancies, and diseases. There is a huge difference in class status between the two positions at this time in history, and physicians are fairly bitchy about emphasizing how disgusting and uneducated surgeons are. Hence, the Mr/Dr distinction. A surgeon calling himself a doctor would have been demonstrating extraordinary hubris. Lydgate, however, blurs the boundaries because of his scientific methods and his intellectual bent-- unlike most Victorian surgeons, he views himself as more of a professional than a mere tradesman.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:02 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

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