medical authority and englishwomen's herbal texts, 1550–1650. by rebecca laroche

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Linnaeus University]On: 03 October 2014, At: 23:31Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Medical Authority and Englishwomen'sHerbal Texts, 15501650. By RebeccaLarocheLora Sigler aa California State University at Long Beach , USAPublished online: 22 Jan 2013.

    To cite this article: Lora Sigler (2013) Medical Authority and Englishwomen's Herbal Texts,15501650. By Rebecca Laroche, The European Legacy: Toward New Paradigms, 18:1, 116-117, DOI:10.1080/10848770.2012.729200

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  • blind sight, and patients treated by corpuscallosotomy for epileptic seizures whose splitbrains show that different parts of your [sic]brain can disagree about whats true (17).Kurzban thus deduces that one should thinkof a mind as a machine that processes informa-tion (27) and expect circuits in the brainto be well engineered to solve adaptiveproblems (35).

    The problems Kurzban proposes to solveare drawn from cliches (truth shall hold yehostage, A little knowledge is a dangerousthing, ignorance is bliss, honesty is the bestpolicy, etc.), the content of banal episodes inmovies, television, and dramedy, and poorlycrafted anecdotes. Indeed, the experimentsallegedly testing his argument are built onself-fulfilling hypotheses with predictableresults: As you can imagine . . . As youmight guess . . . and not surprisingly . . .

    Kurzban proceeds to invent modules ableto solve these problems: some, maybe many,modules . . . are designed to avoid getting infor-mation . . . [and] some modules are designedto guide us away from certain kinds of discov-eries (84); our propaganda modules aredesigned to be strategically wrong (105),while our press secretary modules . . . [maybe] getting it wrong (121); some modulesare designed for functions other than beingright (130); some are . . . designed . . . [for]distilling truth (148), and some get you tosatisfy immediate needs (159); some havea high . . . [and some a] shallow discount rate(160), and some are short-sighted . . .[whileothers are] long-sighted (161); some modulesare designed to gather benefits . . . [and others] todeliver benefits (183), but, oddly enough, nomodules are designed to bring about feelinggood for its own sake (137).

    How then can Kurzbans hash be com-pelling? Kurzbans argument is compel-ling because it asks how the modular viewmakes sense of brains that contain incon-sistencies (63). Indeed, these inconsistenciesare very mysterious without the modularview, but unsurprising with it (130). Insteadof a self looping endlessly through conflict-ing options, different modules gain and loseinfluence on behavior depending on thecontext, ones current state, and the recenthistory (163). Moreover, superficial differ-ences between problems recruit differentmodules (168), explaining choices among

    moral judgments [that] dont necessarilycohere in any meaningful way (189).

    Unfortunately, Kurzban does not turnmodules into testable propositions. But WhyEveryone (Else) Is a Hypocrite shows how evo-lutionary theory may yet be useful to probepsychologys depths.

    Stanley ShostakUniversity of Pittsburgh, 2013, Stanley Shostak

    Medical Authority and EnglishwomensHerbal Texts, 15501650. By RebeccaLaroche (Hampshire, UK: Ashgate, 2009),xii 196 pp. 55.00 cloth.

    In her Introduction, Rebecca Laroche unequiv-ocally states that herbal texts were frequently abasic resource in many, if not most, earlymodern households. This statistic would seemto be evident from household inventories of theperiod. What is not so evident from this barestatistic, is for whose delectation and educationwere these texts intended? Laroches premise,which her analysis of the available evidencehopes to prove, is that a large portion of thoseherbal texts were used, and presumably pur-chased, by women, somewhat in defiance of themale medical profession: in her words, earlymodern Englishwomens engagement withherbal signifiers and thus medical authority(2), moreover, uncover[s] the specific waysthat women engaged herbal texts in orderto invoke or confound medical authority (6).

    The aforementioned medical authority,of course, seized on every opportunity todenigrate the female practitioner of herbalmedicinein one way by gendering herbaltexts, and removing them from the kenof women. One prominent example of thisgendering is that of John Parkinson, whodescribes his treatise Theatrum Botanicum asthis manlike Worke of Herbes and Plants,making his intended audience perfectly clear.In view of this fact, Laroche asksandanswerswhy he felt the need to describeit so. As part of the answer, Laroche not onlydelineates the defeminization of herbals andtheir subsequent masculinization but also pro-vides us with a number of instances of resentfulrivalry among male herbalists, each of whom

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  • claims primacy in one way or another.Unnecessarily, I feel, she seems to apologizefor this latter fact and presents a convolutedargument that both of these phenomena areone and the same. It is, of course, possible toconsider that each male author, in dismissinghis rivals as olde wiues, i.e., ignorant andilliterate, is thus feminizing them to bettermasculinize his own text and establish a moresecure position for his own herbal knowledge.This would then represent two sides of thesame coin, as Laroche opines. Male herbalistsalso attempted to plant anxiety in the minds oftheir readers as a means of female denigration.William Turner, in his 1551 New Herbal,suggests that unregulated female practice ofPhisick will result in the mordre of many(43). It seems that although women wereacknowledged as herbal practitioners, in manlyherbals nonetheless it was a generally negativeacknowledgment.

    With Chapter 2, Laroche examines thefemale ownership of popular herbals written bymen, many of which were inscribed promi-nently, on the flyleaves or elsewhere, with thenames of the probable owners, who frequentlyadded her booke to positively affirmthe owners possession. Laroches analysis ofthe various meanings implicit in the signaturesis intriguing and provocative, suggesting, forone thing, that ownership also meant authorita-tive knowledge of the books contents as wellas possession. Laroche further enlarges on theabove in Chapter 3 by consulting womensdiaries for hints of herbal usage, citing severalinstances of not only direct application of theherbals prescriptions but actual female medicalpractice. Unfortunately, one of the threewomen she chooses to speak for themselves,Lady Margaret Hoby, only reinforces the ideaof womens dependence on men, since sheconsults a male physician along with her herbalat every turn. Lady Grace Mildmay is a betterchoice, since she absorbed her medical knowl-edge at the knee of another woman. Althoughshe knew and consulted with a number ofphysicians, Lady Mildmays practice can be seento be independent, bringing up her daughteron the same path. Elizabeth Isham, Larochesthird example, at first glance seems to be theweakest and most subservient of the three,however, in the end, she proves to be the bestproof of the puddingdistrusting of physiciansand moving confidently away from their

    authority. Still, dependence on male-authoredtextssince even womens own writings aremainly based on thoserather than on theirown practice and observation, vitiates Larochesimplication of defiance.

    Isabella Whitney, whom Laroche citeslastand who gets a chapter of her ownmight arguably constitute an exception. Anunmarried, city-dwelling Londoner, bereft ofposition, Isabella writes for a (hoped-for) living.Her contribution to the herbal genre takes theform of verses, and, although based on a maleauthor (Plats Floures), might be consideredsufficiently different in form and content asto be original, even though she undoubtedlycon