In a previous post, and elsewhere on the internet, I have referred to “what [Roy Porter] calls a ‘patient-shaped gap’ in the history of the case study”. Recently I was rereading the article from which I thought I’d taken the expression (The Patient’s View: Doing Medical History From Below) and was surprised to find no mention of the words. Odd, I thought. It must have been another article by Roy Porter. I checked the other Porter articles I’d used in my research for Guises of Desire. No sign of them there either. In that case, it must have been in the writing of some other author, I concluded. No problem. A Google search for the words would soon track the source down. I typed in the words, complete with quote marks. The only items which Google threw up were from material I had written myself.
I was beginning to feel embarrassed. I’m meticulous about accuracy (even though some might say that, as a biographical novelist, invention is part of my stock-in trade). Reading the original Porter article again, I felt that perhaps it didn’t really matter. The gist of what he was saying in the article could pretty well be summed up by that expression – a patient-shaped gap. But this didn’t satisfy me. I had no business putting words into someone else’s mouth, even if I believed these words corresponded to his meaning.
But where had this expression come from, if not from Roy Porter or some other medical historian? Had I made it up myself? It didn’t seem likely. I just felt that it wasn’t an expression I would have thought of.
I’d first used the phrase in my MA thesis, when I would have been certain to have checked and double-checked what I was writing as well as any references I was citing. So I dug out the thesis and sure enough, there was the expression - but without the quote marks (although I linked the idea to the Porter article and included a genuine quote from it).
So the words were mine. Problem solved – but it is an indicator of the ease with which ‘facts’ can be misremembered and misreported, a caution of particular importance to the Bertha Pappenheim case.