Literary Essays – Hektoen International

Reading the brain in John Keats’s Ode to Psyche

Kathryne Dycus Madrid, Spain   “Psyché ranimée par le baiser de l’Amour (Psyche revived by the kiss of Love)” by Antonia Canova. 1793. Credit: Louvre Museum. Public Domain. Photo by Eric Pouhier. 2007. CC BY-SA 3.0. The Romantic poet John Keats wrote in a letter dated May 18, 1818, “I am glad at not having […]

John Keats – one whose name was writ in water

John Keats, one of the great poets of all times, was born near Moorgate in London in 1795. His father was an inn stable keeper (an ostler), who one night fell off a horse and fatally fractured his skull, leaving his family somewhat impecunious.1 John, sibling of four, was far from a model pupil in school – […]

Margaret Edson’s W;t: lessons on person-centered care

Atara Messinger Toronto, Ontario, Canada     “She slips off her bracelet. She loosens the ties and the top gown slides to the floor.” American playwright Margaret Edson’s 1998 play W;t has been described as “ninety minutes of suffering and death mitigated by a pelvic exam and a lecture on seventeenth-century poetry.”1 When W;t was […]

New opioid epidemic: another long day’s journey

Carol Levine New York, New York, United States   Papaver somniferum  (opium poppy) D. G. J. M. Bois (1896-97) Edmund Tyrone, age 23 (August 1912, New London, Connecticut) “It’s pretty hard to take at times, having a dope fiend for a mother!” From Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill, Act III1   Alexis […]

George Gordon Lord Byron and his limp

JMS Pearce   Fig 1. Plaque of Byron erected in Westminster 4/10/2012 Few would dispute that Lord Byron (Fig 1) was both a poetic prodigy and a flamboyant rogue. George Gordon Noel, sixth Baron Byron (1788–1824), was born on 22 January 1788 at Holles Street, London, son of Captain John (“Mad Jack”) Byron and his […]

Saints on trial

Michael D. Shulman New Hope, Pennsylvania, USA    The Lady with the Lamp There is an irresistible sub-genre of literature devoted to the moral takedown of saints and would-be saints, and it has brought forth contributions from some of the masters of English prose. One thinks especially of George Orwell’s portrait of Gandhi (“Saints should […]

The Brothers Grimm under the knife

Valerie Gribben San Francisco, California, USA    The fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm (1916). Magic-infused fairytales and modern medicine are intertwined as closely as the curving double helix of DNA. Do you doubt this? Well, let us start by acknowledging that the word “magic” has to a large degree regrettably lost its luster. “Magic” […]

“…One must imagine Sisyphus happy”

Katerina Dima Preveza, Greece   “Sysphus, carrying the weight of his agony, forever.” Sisyphus, 1548, Titan Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain. Ancient Greek mythology teems with stories of morality, despair, and the philosophy of the absurd. No story, however, had a greater impact on this young, impressionable medical student than the story of Sisyphus. Sisyphus […]

The unsexed woman: depictions of women in 19th century fictional literature

Katherina Baranova London, Canada   A vicar asking a woman if she likes her new female doctor, the woman retorts that she prefers male doctors and finds them more gentle. Wood engraving after G. Du Maurier (1834-1896). The nineteenth century saw unprecedented changes in medicine, both technical and professional, as two parallel tales dealing with clubfoot […]

Joseph Roth, a visionary poet and victim of European history

Frank Wollheim Sweden   Joseph and Friedl in Berlin 1927. From Wilhelm von Sternberg. Joseph Roth, Kiepenheuer & Wirtsch,2009 Joseph Roth was born on 2 September 1894 in Brody, then a Galician town in the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy, bordering Russia. His parents married in 1892 and like two thirds of the 20,000 inhabitants were Hassidic Jews. […]