Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Tag: Literary Essays

  • Robert Klopstock: Kafka’s fellow patient, friend, and doctor

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “If I had known then what I know now, Franz would be sitting here talking to us.”– Robert Klopstock, M.D., to Kafka scholar Angel Flores, early 1940s Franz Kafka (1883–1924) was born to a German-speaking Jewish family in Prague. He got a law degree at his father’s insistence but worked as a…

  • Holden Caulfield’s coughing conundrum: A medical perspective

    Anthony GulottaBethesda, Maryland, United States J.D. Salinger’s 1951 novel, The Catcher in the Rye, captivates readers with the story of Holden Caulfield, a disillusioned teenager. Was Holden’s constant coughing due to pulmonary tuberculosis (TB), as he claims, or some other illness? His own words paint a bleak picture. He mentions being “dead tired,” harboring a…

  • The ones who stay in Omelas

    Jackson MartinLubbock, Texas, United States Ursula K. Le Guin describes a paradoxical and provocative utopian city in her short story, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. The story reads as a parable, differing from an analogy or metaphor in that it intends to provoke varying conclusions from the audience. Le Guin does not explain…

  • The eight physicians of Shakespeare

    Edward TaborBethesda, Maryland, United States William Shakespeare created eight physicians in his thirty-eight plays (Table I)1; seven of them appear on stage, and the eighth, Gerard de Narbon, though deceased, has a medical reputation that forms an important part of one of the plays.2 All eight physicians have functional roles in the plays; in addition,…

  • George Orwell: An attempt at a diagnosis

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “It’s better to die violently and not too old…‘natural’ death, almost by definition, means something slow, smelly and painful.”– George Orwell, “How the poor die,” 1946 Many readers of the English author George Orwell (1903–1950) know that he died of pulmonary tuberculosis (TB). He wrote Animal Farm, 1984, four other novels, three…

  • “Get well soon”: Rapid recovery in two children’s novels

    Emily BoyleDublin, Ireland The sudden recovery of paralyzed patients is as thrilling as it is unlikely and has often been memorably portrayed in books and film. Some paralysis, such as occurs after spinal cord injury, is permanent. However, gradual physiologic recovery from a paralyzing condition such as a stroke is well recognized, usually with intensive…

  • Tea with Walter de la Mare by Russell Brain

    JMS PearceHull, England “The little nowhere of the brain” Many physicians have dabbled in literature and the arts, or as “medical truants” have abandoned medicine for such ventures. A unique collaboration of medicine and literature was the friendship and exchange of diverse stories and speculative ideas of human experience between the eminent neurologist Walter Russell…

  • Pippi Longstocking: Escapist fiction for children, a clinical case description, or a feminist icon?

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “Think for yourself is the mantra she whispers in children’s ears. Don’t believe the teachers, the police, the child welfare workers…”1– A resumé of Pippi Longstocking’s philosophy Pippi Longstocking (or Pippi Långstrump in the original Swedish) is a fictional nine-year-old girl. She has great self-confidence, superhuman strength, and much joie de vivre.…

  • Spoonerisms

    JMS PearceHull, England The name of the Rev. William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930), warden of New College Oxford 1903–24, is preserved, some would say hallowed, for his involuntary invention of a verbal curiosity. Many found it amusing and the eponym Spoonerism came into colloquial use in Oxford from about 1885. Spoonerisms are the accidental transpositions of…

  • Charles Dickens and the Victorian perception of blindness

    Curtis MargoLynn HarmanTampa, Florida, United States Charles Dickens (1812–1870), the most recognized English author after Shakespeare, left a legacy of fictional characters, many of whom are inseparably associated with the cruelties of the Industrial Age, poverty, and disability. On his first trip to America, Dickens went out of his way to meet Laura Bridgman (1829–1889),…