L. Ashley Squires, “Humble Humbugs and Good Frauds: Harold Frederic, Christian Science, and the Anglo-American Professions” (pp. 353–378)

In October 1898, American novelist Harold Frederic died of complications following a stroke while in the care of a Christian Scientist named Athalie Goodman Mills, summoned to his bedside by the author’s mistress, Kate Lyon. His death was later the subject of a coroner’s inquest and unsuccessful manslaughter charge, making the author’s death central to an already raging debate about the efforts of an ascendant medical profession to criminalize the activities of healers they saw as illegitimate. This essay reads the public controversy as represented in newspapers and medical journals alongside Frederic’s The Damnation of Theron Ware (1896), arguing that both texts demonstrate a widening epistemic gap between an ascendant class of experts and the broader public they served. In each, the concept of placebo emerges as a useful organizing metaphor for this tension. In the wake of cases like Frederic’s, many physicians began advocating for a broader use of “suggestive therapeutics” in response to the challenge that Christian Science presented, raising discomfiting epistemic and ethical questions because its use presumes a dissonance between what the doctor knows and what the patient believes. The ministers in The Damnation of Theron Ware likewise confront the problem of administering a kind of theological placebo, a primitive faith demanded by their congregants that the ministers themselves have come to doubt. Placebo therefore describes a way in which experts could assert their relevance and social necessity in the face of populist energies, exemplified in Christian Science, that challenged their rise to dominance.

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