Spring 2019

Medical Fictions, Romantic to Modern

, 4 pts, UN3223


Literature and medicine have always been in dialogue: Apollo was the god of physicians and poetry, while some of the greatest writers, such as John Keats and Anton Chekhov, were trained as doctors. In our time, literature and medicine have become ever more entwined in Susan Sontag’s formulation of “illness as metaphor,” and in the emergent fields of “medical humanities” and “narrative medicine” that bridge the practices of writer and doctor. This course, which is open to students in both medicine and literature, aims to introduce students to how literary fiction—from the 19th century to the present day—reveals the historical interplay between physicians and writers. We examine how medical professionalism is portrayed in literature, how writers and doctors negotiate the clinical encounter, and how narrative shapes the physician’s practice. As we move through shifting paradigms in both medical and literary history, we explore how thematic, generic, and ethical concerns transcend the divisions between the disciplines: new fields like epidemiology, pathology, and psychiatry influenced the familiar form of the novel, while the case history and gothic fiction display unexpected commonalities. We consider, too, how problems of gender and sexuality recur across medical fictions, and how medical ways of knowing lend themselves to great artistic movements. As we read, we will strive to answer a broader question: why is medicine so often represented through tropes of the supernatural? Writers include Edgar Allan Poe, Charlotte Brontë, Anton Chekhov, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sylvia Plath, and Kazuo Ishiguro, as well as critical readings by Virginia Woolf, Sigmund Freud, Oliver Sacks, Michel Foucault, and Donna Haraway.  Both literature and medical (or pre-med) students are invited to apply; medical students may take this course for R-credit. This seminar will particularly suit students who are interested in British literature, literature post-1800, prose fiction, social justice, and the medical humanities.  To apply, write to the course instructor with a brief statement of interest.

Section Number
Call Number
Day, Time & Location
R 10:10AM-12:00PM 612 Philosophy Hall
Arden A Hegele