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Books, Journals, New Media
July 23/30, 2003


Author Affiliations

Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor.

JAMA. 2003;290(4):538-539. doi:10.1001/jama.290.4.538

Psychosomatic illness has long been a favorite literary device, because it reverses the usual pattern of mental disorder: instead of a bodily disorder being reflected in the mind, a mental disorder is reflected in the body. To an author, psychosomatic illness can serve as a useful way to describe a character's inner life.

In Idioms of Distress, Lilian Furst, professor of comparative literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has written a lucid study of descriptions of psychosomatic illness in literature—both the literature of psychiatry and imaginative literature. She considers six literary works, from Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter through Pat Barker's Regeneration.