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Most of the thirteen stories in this collection portray interactions among pension guests in a German spa town; a few represent the lives of the town's permanent residents. The minor health problems (mostly digestive ailments, or unspecified "internal complaints") of the guests are not the crux of the plot but rather what gives it its texture. Talk about eating, "internal complaints," sexuality, body image, and pregnancy is the vehicle through which people try to relate.
Most of the stories are about failed communications: between men and women, for example, or between German and English people. Several stories are narrated in the first person by a young Englishwoman whose bodily and marital status (ill? pregnant? married or not?) are pointedly ambiguous.
Two stories represent childbirth from "outsider" perspectives. In "At Lehman's," a virginal serving girl sees her mistress's pregnancy as an "ugly, ugly, ugly" state; later, her sexual explorations with a young man are interrupted by her mistress's screams in labor. In "A Birthday," a man waiting for his wife to give birth focuses on his own suffering rather than hers. "The Child-Who-Was-Tired" follows a child-servant through a day of repeated abuses to body and spirit that culminates in infanticide.
An engaging anthology of writings about illness, from over 330 sources, literary and medical, men and women, ranging from Deuteronomy and Hippocrates to Virginia Woolf and Oliver Sacks. Readable explication introduces the chapters devoted to various themes, a list of which will serve best to illustrate the scope.
1. Generalities; 2. Illnesses (greater and lesser); 3. Eyes, Ears and Teeth; 4. Doctors and Cures; 5. Hospitals and Patients; 6. Philosophers and Kings; 7. Intellectual and Spiritual Frets; 8. Strange Complaints, Mishaps, Embarrassments; 9. Imaginary, Feigned, Psychological; 10. Melancholy and Love Sickness; 11. Manias, Phobias, Fantasies, Fears; 12. Breakdown and Madness; 13. Young and Old; 14. Animals; 15. Invalids and Convalescents; 16. Short and Sharp (a collection of pithy aphorisms about illness).
Although the Creation of Adam has been portrayed many times in the history of Western art, no other image is as enduring as Michelangelo’s fresco. Adam lays back on a barren terrain, a small piece of the newly created earth. His languid pose belies his apparent physical strength. Based on classical Greek and Roman prototypes, Adam is the ideal human male with his rippling muscles and elegant contours.
However, at this particular moment, Adam is not complete. He extends his left hand out to meet the finger of God. God hovers in the air, surrounded by angels and a billowing cloak-like form. Adam is clearly made in God’s image, as seen in God’s muscular form. God stretches out with his right hand toward Adam; He looks intently and directly at Adam, who returns the gaze with longing.
As God’s outstretched finger almost meets Adam’s more passive finger, we are poised on the brink of creation. Adam is physically alive, but here God is about to endow Adam with what makes human beings truly alive: the spirit, the soul, the intellect. All of man’s potential, physical and spiritual, is contained in this one timeless moment.
Ingenious Pain tells the life story of James Dyer, a surgeon in eighteenth-century England who is gifted--and cursed--with the inability to feel physical or emotional pain. Beginning with his postmortem, the novel traces the thirty-three years of his life, from his illegitimate conception on a frozen river, through the rise of his career from itinerant quack's assistant to ship's surgeon, and then to the court of Empress Catherine of Russia where he meets Mary, a mysterious woman who performs magical surgery on him with her hands, enabling him for the first time to feel and, as a result, to love.
At first this new ability drives him mad, and he is submitted to the infamous torments of Bethlehem Hospital. He gradually recovers, but his new sensitivity has disrupted his identity as a surgeon. He performs one last operation, saving the life of a Negro wrestler by opening his chest and massaging his heart. His own death, not long after, seems to signify that he has at last become a normal man, and this is a form of redemption.
This is a long poem, subtitled "A Poem for Three Voices," and originally written for radio broadcast. It consists of three intertwining interior monologues, contextualized by a dramatic setting: "A Maternity Ward and round about." The three women of the title are patients, and each describes a different experience.
The First Voice is a (presumably) married woman who gives birth and takes her baby home during the course of the poem. The Second, a secretary, has a miscarriage, not her first, and the Third, a college student, gives birth after an unwanted pregnancy, and gives the baby up for adoption.
In the fictional present of Evening, Ann Lord is diagnosed with terminal cancer and spends most of her time in her own bed in her house in Cambridge, Mass, drifting in and out of a medicated sleep, cared for by her adult children and various private nurses. In her reveries Ann returns to a weekend some forty years earlier, and re-experiences meeting a young doctor named Harris Arden and finding and losing the only true passion of her life. As Evening moves episodically between present and past, only the reader can see both Ann's dying, nearly motionless body and the hidden, vital world of her memories.
Ironically, while Ann's remembered youth forms a suspenseful plot, full of romance and tragedy, her full adult life seems to have been signally lacking in any of the passion, focus, and vitality that characterized her young womanhood. The best times of her life were literally over when that weekend in the past came to an abrupt and tragic close; and now, as her own life ends, it is this past "best time" that she returns to. Ann's children, friends, and caregivers only see her as a relatively young woman, dying a tragically early and painful death; they never grasp the content or intensity of her inner life, or know the name of the man who meant most to her.
This short, anecdotal autobiography begins with the author's birth in Cardiff in 1923 and ends in the mid-1960's when the author had become a successful writer and physician in London. Much of the story concerns Abse's childhood and youth. The theme is self-definition: how did it come about that, like Anton P. Chekhov, the young Dannie Abse chose to devote his life to "chasing two hares" (medicine and writing).
His lower middle-class Jewish parents, especially his father, found no redeeming social value in having a poet in the family. Influenced by his older brother Wilfred (who became a psychoanalyst), Dannie gravitated toward medicine as a career, although he almost fainted when he observed his first surgery.
When Dannie was a student in London, poetry energized his life. He published "After Every Green Thing," his first volume of poetry, while still in medical training (1949). He also met Joan, his future wife, in 1949 and they were married in 1951.
He was assigned to reading chest x-rays while serving his time in the Royal Air Force. Subsequently, Dannie took a part-time job as a civilian in the RAF chest clinic in London and began his dual career as chest physician and writer. Near the end of A Poet in the Family, Dannie describes the death of his father in Llandough Hospital in 1964.
Through a series of letters, the lover, Werther, narrates his story of finding love and losing it. The continuity of the piece is interrupted by the third person narrator to explicate certain segments of the tale and to describe the unsuccessful suitor's suicide.
Young Werther, an artist with independent means, meets and falls in love with a woman already betrothed. The letters he writes detail the development of his relationship with Lotte and eventually with her intended, Albert. As the date of Lotte's wedding approaches, Werther leaves the area and attempts to forget her by immersing himself in the work world.
Unsuccessful, he returns to the estate where Lotte and her new husband reside. Becoming increasingly more obsessed with the need to possess Lotte, he alienates his former friends and is banished from their presence. Suicide ideation appears on multiple occasions, and in his final agony of loss, Werther borrows Albert's pistols and kills himself.
This poem is one in a series written by Ted Hughes, addressing his wife, the American poet Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963. Here, the speaker recalls a time when he and his wife were living in Spain, and she became ill: "You lay helpless and a little bit crazy / With the fever." For Plath, the illness seems intolerable. She whispers, "Help me" to her husband, "crie[s] out for America," and sobs "I am going to die." He takes care of her, feeling as if he is "a nursemaid" or "suddenly mother." He cooks soup and spoon feeds her.
What worries him, though, is her reaction to being ill. He wonders whether she's exaggerating, and fears that if she treats a fever as if it were "the most impossible / Of all horrible things," then how will she be "when things get really bad"? He feels himself withdraw his sympathy for her, but then he recognizes what he calls "the overload"--a bluntedness which he likens to "the callous / That eases overwhelmed doctors."
The end of the poem is ambiguous: both he and his wife are overloaded; where her response is (hyper?) sensitivity, his is anesthesia. He continues to feed her the soup. (67 lines)
This poem is one in a series written by Ted Hughes, addressing his wife, Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963. After her first suicide attempt, and before she met Hughes, Plath was given electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for depression (see Plath's novel The Bell Jar for her own description of this). In this poem, Hughes contemplates the mechanics and symbolism of what seems so brutal and elemental a treatment.
He focuses on the fragility and beauty of her body--"Your temples, where the hair crowded in, / Were the tender place"--and then makes us imagine the effect of electrodes there, in ever more shocking images: "They crashed / The thunderbolt into your skull," "They dropped you / A rigid bit of bent wire / Across the Boston City grid." He then suggests that there is a link between this treatment and the kind of poet she became: her "voice" was scarred and "over-exposed / Like an x-ray," and when her words returned they were distorted and vulnerable, "Faces reversed from the light / Holding in their entrails." (38 lines)