Victorian Popular Fictions 5.1 11 Cole


Degenerative Doctoring:

Coercion, Experimentation and Ethics in Arthur Machen’s Gothic Horror

 Thomas G. Cole II

Download PDF here


In “The Inmost Light” and The Great God Pan Arthur Machen demonstrates a medicalised sexism through unethical human experimentation performed on women by doctors who experiment no matter the cost. In Machen’s stories, the sensationalism is meant to create a feeling of horror and disgust that hinges on the cruelty the public had begun to associate with experimental medical science. The narratives also engage with nineteenth-century perspectives on degeneration, women, and rape. Machen’s use of a sexualised rape metaphor dehumanises women and retains a gendered doctor-patient relationship. In light of this gendered relationship, this article considers Machen’s use of elements drawn from the Gothic in relation to the depiction of medicalised sexism and medical ethics in two pieces of his popular fiction.


Arthur Machen; Great God Pan; ‘The Inmost Light’; medicine; medical ethics; sexism; rape; genre; experimentation

Date of Acceptance: 27 June 2023

Date of Publication: 5 July 2023

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Cole, Thomas G., II. 2023. “Degenerative Doctoring: Coercion, Experimentation and Ethics in Arthur Machen’s Gothic Horror.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 5.1: 158-70. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI:

Return to Contents page of VPFJ 5.1

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.