I., ed. Bamforth

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The Body in the Library

Bamforth, I., ed.

Last Updated: Jan-28-2004
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)


The title The Body in the Library suggests medicine (the body) as seen through literary eyes. True enough, this collection of stories, poems, essays, and excerpts from longer works is subtitled "A Literary Anthology of Modern Medicine." However, as Iain Bamforth points out in his introduction, nowadays we are more concerned with "the library in the body" (p. xxiv); that is, we believe the truth of human illness can be found by biochemical tests and positron scans, rather than by storytelling. In this anthology Bamforth uses literature itself to document this change in perspective. Beginning with "The Black Veil" (1836), an early sketch by Charles Dickens, Bamforth recounts the recent history of medicine as seen by poets and writers, many of whom were (and are) physicians themselves.

Part of the anthology consists of material already annotated in this database. This includes stories (e.g. Conan Doyle’s "The Curse of Eve" from Round the Red Lamp, Kafka’s A Country Doctor, and Williams’s Jean Beicke); excerpts from novels (e.g. "The Operation" from Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, "The Fever Ward" from Camus’ The Plague, and "Doctor Glas" from Hjalmar Soderberg’s novel, Doctor Glas); and essays (e.g. Virginia Woolf’s On Being Ill and John Berger’s "Clerk of Their Records" from A Fortunate Man).

However, most of the selections have not previously been noted in this database, nor do they appear in other recent anthologies. Iain Bamforth has discovered some wonderful "new" material on the medical experience. This includes several poems by the German physician-poet Gottfried Benn (pp. 151-153); and a brief piece by neurologist-writer Alfred Döblin ("My Double," pp. 177-179), in which the physician Döblin and the writer Döblin describe their respective "doubles" in rather detached and negative terms.

Another delight is the series of selections from Miguel Torga’s diary (pp. 256-278); Torga (1907-1995) was a provincial Portuguese medical practitioner for 60 years. Among the other pieces are short excerpts from plays by Georg Buchner, Jules Romains, and Karl Valentin; and poems by Weldon Kees, W. H. Auden, Philip Larkin, Dannie Abse, Robert Pinsky, Miroslav Holub , and Thom Gunn.

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