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Views & Reviews Medical Classics

The System of Dr Tarr and Professor Fether

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 14 December 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d8023
  1. Peter Davies, freelance journalist, London
  1. petergdavies{at}

The 19th century madhouse was often portrayed as a place of pure gothic horror. What more natural subject, then, for that early doyen of the genre Edgar Allan Poe, so many of whose characters seem manic, morbid, obsessive, or just downright strange? Poe’s short story “The System of Dr Tarr and Professor Fether” recounts a visit by an unnamed narrator travelling in France to a “maison de sant or private madhouse.” This is run according to the so called soothing system, where punishments are avoided and patients are “permitted to roam about the house and grounds in the ordinary apparel of persons in …

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