“Medicinable Literature”: Bibliotherapy, Literary Caregiving, and the First World War

Haslam, Sara and King, Edmund G. C. (2021). “Medicinable Literature”: Bibliotherapy, Literary Caregiving, and the First World War. Literature and Medicine, 39(2) pp. 296–318.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/lm.2021.0025


Histories of bibliotherapy often emphasize the importance of the First World War in stimulating the development of bibliotherapeutic theory and practice. The word itself was used in a 1916 article by the American author Samuel McChord Crothers, while histories of bibliotherapy in the United Kingdom often foreground H. F. Brett-Smith’s so-called “fever chart” of therapeutic books for treating shell-shocked soldiers. Despite this, however, we argue that a full account of wartime bibliotherapy (particularly the importance of British hospital libraries in its development) has yet to be told. This article draws on the papers of British military hospital personnel to describe the range of “literary caregiving” supporting the treatment of sick and wounded soldiers during the conflict. It traces the social and professional networks underlying these schemes. Finally, it shows how British volunteer librarians helped develop a specifically medicalized language of caregiving through books, thereby contributing to the early development of bibliotherapy.

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