Do poets make better doctors? Is literature healthy? Should literary characters be diagnosed? This course explores the relationship of literature and medicine and questions such as these by reading and discussing a range of literary and theoretical texts.
In "On Being Ill," Virginia Woolf wrote that "English, which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear, has no words for the shiver and the headache. . . . let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry." Yet illness narratives are now an established literary genre. Furthermore, some argue that knowledge of literature and narrative help doctors understand their patients and their symptoms better. This course will explore a range of issues involved in the intersection of literature and medicine. We will look at, for example, the use of literature in the study and practice of medicine and medical treatment, what is at stake in diagnosing literary characters, and the kinds of literary forms illness has shaped.