58 pages 1 hour read

Dana Schwartz

Anatomy: A Love Story

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2022

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Summary and Study Guide


Published in 2021, Dana Schwartz’s Anatomy: A Love Story is a young adult Gothic romance/historical fiction novel. Set in 1817 Scotland, the novel follows Hazel Sinnet, a young noblewoman who aspires to become a surgeon, and Jack Currer, a “resurrection man”—a grave robber whose job is to dig up the freshly buried bodies Hazel needs for her medical studies. Together, they seek to win Hazel a place in the prestigious Edinburgh Anatomists’ Society and solve the mystery of Jack’s disappearing friends. Anatomy earned a place on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists and was nominated for a 2022 Goodreads Choice Award in the category of Best Young Adult Fiction. The novel explores themes of corruption, ambition, and life and death.

This study guide references the 2022 Macmillan eBook edition.

Content Warning: The novel contains mentions of substance abuse, violence, self-injury, suicidal ideation, and involuntary medical procedures.

Plot Summary

In 1817 Edinburgh, three cloaked figures abduct a young resurrection man from a church graveyard. The scene shifts to a pleasant if overcast day in the bucolic setting of Hawthornden Castle, where 17-year-old noblewoman Hazel Sinnett stitches her cook’s injured hand and reanimates a dead frog using metal implements and the electricity in the atmosphere. Hazel hopes to attend a demonstration by the renowned surgeon Dr. Beecham, but Bernard Almont, her cousin and intended future husband, refuses to accompany her, and women are not allowed to attend surgical demonstrations alone. Jack Currer, a 17-year-old resurrection man, helps Hazel sneak into the surgical theater so that she can witness Dr. Beecham’s demonstration. After astonishing his audience by introducing a powerful sedative called ethereum, the famous surgeon announces an upcoming lecture series. Hazel sees the lectures as her ticket to becoming a legendary doctor who can cure the plague that took her older brother’s life and nearly killed her as well.

When the plague returns to Edinburgh, Hazel’s mother, Lady Lavinia Sinnett, decides to take her children to England. Hazel pretends to be ill so that she can remain in Scotland and attend Dr. Beecham’s lectures. She disguises herself in her deceased brother’s clothes and enrolls in Dr. Beecham’s class under the name George Hazleton. Although she quickly emerges as the most promising pupil, one of Beecham’s colleagues, Dr. Straine, sees through her disguise and forbids her from attending the class. Hazel seeks out Dr. Beecham and proposes an experiment: If she passes the Royal Physician’s Exam, he and Dr. Straine will permit women to take their classes. The doctor accepts the wager.

To prepare for the exam, Hazel must dissect human cadavers. She hires Jack to deliver bodies to the disused dungeon of Hawthornden Castle, which becomes her laboratory. The first body Jack brings her is that of a young woman whose heart has been surgically removed. The next day, Bernard announces his engagement to Hazel at his family’s annual ball without proposing to her first. Hazel leaves the ball in a state of shock, feeling as though a future she no longer desires is rapidly approaching. When Jack’s partner goes missing, Hazel fills in for him. On their second night working together, they find a dead man whose eyes have been removed. His coffin falsely identifies him as a casualty of the plague. Three men enter the cemetery, prompting Jack and Hazel to hide in the recently excavated grave. When the mysterious figures retreat, Hazel and Jack share their first kiss.

Bernard later apologizes for his presumptuous behavior at the ball and proposes to Hazel privately. Feeling as though she has no other choice, she accepts his proposal and tells him that the rumors about her having another suitor are false. With Jack’s help, Hazel converts Hawthornden Castle into a hospital and welcomes patients with various ailments, including the plague. Jack introduces her to the wortflower plant, and she discovers that its roots prevent people from dying of the disease. Seeing Hazel use her brilliant mind to care for those in need leads Jack to realize that he’s in love with her, and they share another kiss.

Jack’s resurrectionist partner reappears missing an arm. He tells Jack and Hazel that he was abducted by a man in a top hat and taken to a surgical theater where a doctor sedated him with a blue potion. Hazel tries to convince a constable that someone at the Anatomists’ Society is preying on the poor, but the officer dismisses her concerns. Jack attempts to find honest work before resigning himself to digging up bodies again. A week before the Physician’s Exam, the Almonts host a dinner party to celebrate Hazel and Bernard’s engagement. She makes a deal with her fiancé. If she passes the exam, he will allow her to pursue a medical career. If she fails, she must abandon her lifelong dream.

On the morning of the exam, Hazel sees a figure like the one Jack’s partner described taking someone to the Anatomists’ Society. There she witnesses Dr. Beecham removing an eye from a poor boy and transplanting it into a baron’s head. Because Hazel isn’t sitting for the exam, Dr. Beecham declares that she has forfeited their wager. Still, he is glad to see her and hopes that she will appreciate his groundbreaking medical advancements. When she shows more interested in the lives he’s taken than in his accomplishments, Beecham grows irritated. The doctor’s accomplices abduct Jack, and Beecham tries to teach Hazel that attachments bring only pain by attempting to cut out Jack’s heart. Hazel and an injured Jack manage to escape the Anatomists’ Society. She brings Jack to Almont House to recuperate, and Bernard realizes that she is in love with the resurrectionist. In retaliation, Bernard falsely accuses Jack of murder and has him arrested.

On Christmas Day, Hazel confronts Dr. Beecham, having realized that he possesses the secret to immortality. Dr. Beecham offers Hazel a vial of the golden tonic that grants him eternal life, hoping that he has at last found a fellow scientific genius who can appreciate what he has achieved and lessen his loneliness. Hazel takes the tonic, not to administer it on herself, but in the hopes that it will save Jack. Hazel visits her love in prison and gives him the vial, but Jack is torn: Should he take the tonic and condemn them both to a life on the run, or accept his fate and allow Hazel to focus on saving countless other lives? Jack is hanged the next day, and his body is taken to the university hospital. Despite her heartache, Hazel continues to treat patients and seek a cure for the plague. Months later, an unsigned letter from New York City arrives at Hawthornden Castle with a message saying that the writer’s heart still belongs to Hazel and that he is waiting for her.