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Dominic Birdsey's identical twin, Thomas, is paranoid schizophrenic. With proper medication he can work at a coffee stand, but occasionally he has severe outbreaks. Thinking he is making a sacrificial protest that will stop the war in the Middle East, Thomas cuts off his own hand in a public library. Dominic sees him through the ensuing decision not to attempt to reattach the hand, and makes efforts on his behalf to free him from what he knows to be an inadequate and depressing hospital for the dangerous mentally ill.
In the process, Dominic reviews his own difficult life as Thomas's normal brother, his marriage to his ex-wife which ended after their only child died of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and his ongoing hostility to his stepfather. First in Thomas's interests, and then for his own sake, he sees a gifted Indian woman employed by the hospital as therapist. She helps Dominic come to understand Thomas's illness and the family's accommodations or reactions to it in terms of the whole family system.
In the course of treatment, Dominic discovers sexual abuses taking place in the hospital and helps to expose the perpetrators. He succeeds in getting Thomas released, but Thomas soon commits suicide. After Thomas's death Dominic finds out about their birth father--a secret their mother had shared with Thomas, but not with him.
He also learns that the woman he has been seeing is HIV-positive. She asks him to keep her baby if she dies. At first he resists, but later, having found his way back into relationship with his wife, he takes the baby. The book ends with several healing events that leave Dominic able to cope with the considerable loss, failure, and sadness in his personal and family history.
This scholarly study examines "what it meant to ’talk of diseases’ in the second half of the nineteenth century" (2) and how discourses of health and illness were a vehicle for exploring individual and social identities, including gendered, racialized, and national identities. Narratives of physical illness are not simply artifacts of Victorian medical culture, Vrettos argues, but offer examples of the pervasive "master narratives" that shaped Victorian middle-class culture.
Individual chapters focus on the ill female body as an expressive text with variable legibility (and on nurses as privileged readers of ill bodies); "nervous illness" and the role of narrative in reconstructing the self; "neuromimesis" or neurotic imitation of disease; and the "politics of fitness and its relation to imperialist ideology." Vrettos discusses fictional works by Louisa May Alcott, (Hospital Sketches; see this database) Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot (Middlemarch; see this database), H. Rider Haggard, Henry James, Bram Stoker, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
This study examines representations of feminine illness in American culture from 1840 to 1940. It argues that the figure of the invalid woman emerged in the 1840s amid significant changes in "American literature, medicine and culture," including the emergence of a specifically American literature, the professionalization and masculinization of medicine, and the "sometimes complementary, sometimes opposed" ideologies of feminism and domesticity (17).
The book discusses mid-nineteenth-century medical theories that articulated women as "biologically inferior . . . given to disease and pain" (34) before analyzing contemporary literary works by E.D.E.N. Southworth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne (see this database for annotations of The Birthmark and Rappaccini’s Daughter) Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and works by twentieth-century authors including Ellen Glasgow, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (see this database for The Yellow Wallpaper annotated by Felice Aull and also annotated by Jack Coulehan), Tillie Olsen, Edith Wharton, F. (Francis) Scott Fitzgerald (see this database for Tender Is the Night annotated by Jack Coulehan, also annotated by Pamela Moore), and Henry James. Art, advertisements, and the film, Dark Victory (see annotation) are other points of reference.
Price Herndl examines compliant and resistant uses of women as invalids; the surprisingly small changes in figures of feminine illness in response to changes in women’s rights; the links literature constructs between illness, money, work, and value; shifting theories of cure (from somatic to psychic); and the rise of germ theory in relation to fictional representations of illness. She argues that male and female fiction writers in the period she studies use feminine illness for different purposes: "What that figure signifies is kaleidoscopic, shifting to suit the political needs of its user" (218).
Invalid figures in literature and culture, Price Herndl asserts, can "divert political dis-ease into an overwhelming attention to the individual body and away from the body politic," locating people’s problems in their individual bodies and selves rather than in the oppressive aspects of their culture (220). Recurrent representations of sick women reflected the extreme unease attached to the position of women in American culture in the years 1840-1940. While her study stops at 1940, Price Herndl asserts that after World War Two and at other points when "masculine privilege seems threatened . . . illness is figured more and more often as male" (220).
Tambudzai, the heroine of this female bildungsroman, travels from her small Rhodesian village to live in Umtali town with her successful, British-educated uncle and his family. She gets this chance for change and formal education when her brother dies suddenly from a mysterious illness a year after entering the mission school.
The novel, set in 1968, unites a classic coming of age narrative with the particular tensions of an African colony under European rule. While Tambu struggles to assimilate into her uncle's family, her cousin Nyasha becomes a compulsive student and develops a serious eating disorder while struggling with the biculturalism of her childhood, spent mostly in the United Kingdom. Tambu's university-educated aunt gradually rebels against her domineering husband.
Summary:Claire, Rachel, and Allison Barber share the trauma of having lost both parents in a strange and sudden accident. The youngest, Claire, and the oldest, Rachel, also share their late mother's migraine headaches. The novel's focus is Rachel's disappearance and Claire's search for her through North America, Europe, and Mexico. By herself and eventually with the help of Rachel's friend and sometime lover, a massage therapist named Brad Arnarson, Claire traces the steps of Rachel's professional (as a freelance science journalist) and personal meetings with researchers and health practitioners who work on migraines.
Summary:Protagonist Mary Lennox, "as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived," is nine years old when she wakes one morning in India to an empty house, forgotten by all in the chaos of a cholera epidemic that has killed her pretty young mother, British army captain father, and most of their servants. The novel charts Mary’s removal to England and her physical, psychological, and moral development on the Yorkshire estate of her widowed uncle Archibald Craven, a reputed "hunchback." As part of her own maturation, Mary catalyzes growth and healing in (and between) her mildly spinally disfigured uncle and his "invalid" son Colin.
Summary:The story opens with the death of the protagonist’s beloved mother, with whom she lives. Ines, a dictionary researcher, is soon jolted from her grief by the excruciating pain of a “twisted and gangrenous gut” (112). After a hospital stay and emergency surgery, she returns home to recuperate from the physical trauma and revisit her mourning. On the day when she can remove the wound dressings, Ines discovers a surprising change in her body: it seems to be turning to stone. Her incision has become a “raised shape, like a starfish, like the whirling arms of a nebula in the heavens” that gradually spreads to the rest of her body, forming "ruddy veins" across her belly and "greenish-white crystals sprouting in her armpits" (119).
The meeting of John and Florence Dowell and Edward and Leonora Ashburnham in a German health spa is the center of a train of lies, deceptions, adulterous love triangles, and deaths. John Dowell, a memorably "unreliable" narrator, calls it "the saddest story I have ever heard" (7). His narrative distance stems partly from the pastness of the events, partly from his absence for some of them, but mostly from his ignorance or denial of realities as intimate as his wife's serial deceptions of him.
Heart disease is the central narrative trope, a literary device easily unpacked as a site of irony: Each of the two major characters who have a "heart" (i.e. heart condition) is faking it, in service of his/her serial "affairs du coeur." Florence fabricates her heart trouble before her marriage is ever consummated, using it to turn Dowell into a cardiac nurse and keep him out of her bedroom. Edward Ashburnham fakes his illness to escape his military post and take his latest love object (and his stoically Catholic wife) to Germany.
The extramarital romps occasioned by Dowell's solicitude for Florence's "heart" comprise the main gag of this novel's comic beginning. When the focus shifts to Edward, Leonora, and their ward Nancy Rufford, The Good Soldier becomes a tragedy of emotional sadism, sentimental martyrdom, madness, and moral exhaustion that leaves us unsure about who in this novel has a literal or figurative heart.
Diagnosed in 1985 with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, Susan Wendell's reflections address her struggle first with illness and then with the lasting "social and psycho-ethical" conflicts illness and disability generate in contemporary Western culture. Her specific focus on feminist theory comes from her increasing awareness that "knowledge people with disabilities have about living with bodily suffering and limitation and how their cultures treat rejected aspects of bodily life . . . did not inform theorizing about the body by non-disabled feminists and that feminist theory was consequently both incomplete and skewed toward healthy, non-disabled experience"(p.5).
A chapter on "Who is Disabled?" engages current definitions of disability, who produces them, for what purposes, and to what effect. This chapter addresses the cases of illness and aging and explores the political and other values of the category, "people with disabilities." Other chapters discuss the social construction of disability, disability and illness as stigmatized states that might be re-envisioned as "difference," the enculturation of myths about bodily control and independence, medical authority's inflection of embodiment, the importance of disability perspectives to feminist ethics, and perspectives on transcending the body.
The protagonist, Anderson, has a skin cancer growing dangerously close to one of his tear ducts. An aging "idler and playboy," he has spent too many years in the sun (67). Anderson consults and promptly becomes infatuated with his facial plastic surgeon, Dr. Kim, "who turned out to be a woman, a surprisingly young Korean-American who even in her baggy lab coat evinced considerable loveliness" (67). Anderson is fascinated with Dr. Kim's body, her visible pregnancy, her way of moving and speaking, and her face. He enjoys the "bliss of secure helplessness" of the surgery itself, performed by Dr. Kim and two female nurses who "rotate" around him conversing as they work (67).
While successful, the surgery leaves a small bump on his face that Anderson asks Dr. Kim to correct surgically. The second surgery achieved, Anderson returns a third time for the much more ambitious project of tucking his somewhat saggy eyelids. His goal, however, is not just to tighten slack skin but to make his lids look like Dr. Kim's, "with an epicanthus" (69). The six-hour surgery is both successful and satisfying to Anderson--until he sees a photo of Dr. Kim's husband.