Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Tag: Literary Vignettes

  • George Orwell: Obsessed with rats

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “Of all the horrors—a rat.”– George Orwell, 1984 It is said that author George Orwell (1903–1950), born Eric Blair, was “obsessed” with rats.1 Rats are mentioned in his novels, essays, diaries, and letters. As he got older, he became more rat-obsessed. He has been called “a kind of literary pied piper dancing…

  • On Voltaire, Akakia, De Maupertuis, and another Akakia

    Avi OhryTel Aviv, Israel When in 1718 François-Marie Arouet (1694–1778) was released from incarceration at the Bastille, he changed his name to Voltaire. Soon he became an “enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher, famous for his wit, his attacks on the established Catholic Church, and his advocacy of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and separation…

  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it…

  • John Keats statue

    Arpan K. BanerjeeSolihull, England John Keats, born in London in 1795, is one of the finest Romantic poets of the English language. He died at the age of twenty-five in Rome, where he had gone to recover from tuberculosis. The house where he spent the last years of his life, at the base of the…

  • Charlotte Gilman, Weir Mitchell, and “The Yellow Wallpaper”

    Jack RiggsMorgantown, West Virginia, United States Charlotte Perkins Gilman lived a complex and controversial life.1 A prolific writer and lecturer, she advocated for the social, economic, and civic liberation of women.1 She was also a nationalist, eugenicist, and white supremacist.1 Despite her prominent feminist role, “today, Charlotte is primarily remembered for her haunting story [‘The…

  • Agatha Christie’s poisons: Better dying through chemistry

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “Everything is a poison. Nothing is a poison. It is all a matter of dose.”– Claude Bernard, French physiologist (1813–1878) Agatha Christie (1890–1976) wrote sixty-six detective novels, fourteen collections of short stories, and three plays. She is the best selling fiction writer ever published, with two billion books sold. Her works have…

  • Joseph Conrad and medicine

    Joseph Conrad wrote some of the most renowned novels of the twentieth century. Born in Poland in 1857, he entered the French marine service in 1874, and in 1878 began to work on English ships, eventually commanding his own ship and traveling to distant and exotic places. He learned English in his teens and became…

  • Englishes

    Peter ArnoldSydney, Australia According to Google,1 the language spoken by most people is English (1.5 billion), followed by Mandarin (1.1 billion) and Hindi (0.6 billion). However, of our approaching 8 billion, many more speak another language besides those 1.5 million in the top bracket. This other language has hundreds of “dialects,” which might obscure appreciation…

  • The birth of Oliver Twist

    From the book by Charles Dickens, chapter one: “Although I am not disposed to maintain that being born in a workhouse, is in itself the most fortunate and enviable circumstance that can possibly befall a human being, I do mean to say that in this particular instance, it was the best thing for Oliver Twist…

  • Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones: Feeding fevers

    Sally MetzlerChicago, Illinois, United States For years, physicians and pundits have deliberated the merits of starving or feeding a fever. Even the novel Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (published in 1749) presents a lengthy discourse on the recommended treatment of fever in regard to nutrition.1 As the heroic foundling Jones languishes in bed from a…