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October 23, 1991

Literature and Medicine, vol 9, Fictive Ills: Literary Perspectives on Wounds and Diseases

Author Affiliations

Yale University School of Medicine New Haven, Conn

Yale University School of Medicine New Haven, Conn

JAMA. 1991;266(16):2298-2299. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03470160130054

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On many levels, this volume is a successful experiment. The book's format is unique, with eight pairs of scientists and humanists commenting on various literary works about diseases or wounds. Each of the eight sections has two essays (one by a medical professional, the other by a humanist), discussing works of Sophocles, John Donne, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Henry James, Anton Chekhov, Leo Tolstoy, Tillie Olsen, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Evelyn Waugh.

Several sections are striking. Section VII, with essays by Julia Connelly, a practicing internist, and Joanne Trautmann Banks, an adjunct professor of literature, reflects on Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych and Olsen's "Tell Me a Riddle." Connelly reveals the physician's practical perspective as she tries to relate Tolstoy's protagonist and Olsen's Eva to patients she has treated: "As I consider... [them], I recall two patients who asked me for help during their lives and for whom I