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This anthology culls 1,500 excerpts from approximately 600 works of literature primarily written in the past two centuries and representing all major genres--the novel, drama, poetry, and essay. These brief selections highlight how literature portrays the medical profession and also provide ample evidence of many recurrent themes about the doctor-patient relationship and the personal lives of physicians present in the pages of fiction.
The book is organized into eleven chapters devoted to the following subjects: the doctor's fee, time, bedside manner, the medical history and physical examination, communication and truth, treatment, detachment, resentment of the medical profession, hospital rounds, social status, and the doctor in court. Many well-known authors including Anton P. Chekhov, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Mann, W. (William) Somerset Maugham, Leo Tolstoy, Tennessee Williams, and William Carlos Williams are featured in this anthology but less notable writers are also introduced. A twenty-three-page bibliography of primary and secondary sources is a useful element of the book.
The country doctor, Monsieur Benassis, practices in a village called Voreppe at the base of the Grande Chartreuse Mountains. He is a seedy and unkempt, but very kind-hearted, bachelor of 50 who lives with his authoritarian housekeeper. Benassis was brought up in the country, but had lived for many years in Paris where he enjoyed a dissipated life and loved two women. He left the first, only to learn later that she bore him a son and died of heart disease. Later his illegitimate son died.
His second love, Evelina, broke off their engagement when her parents objected to the suitor’s sordid past. Benassis became very depressed and considered suicide. After visiting a monastery in the Grand Chartreuse region, he decided to move to Voreppe and devote his life to serving the poor rural people. He not only practices medicine, but over the years has also initiated a number of economic and community development projects in the area.
Above the village is a hamlet that contains a dozen cretins among the thirty families who live there. Cretinism is common in the region. Dr. Benassis decides that it would be good for the public health to have all the cretins sent to an asylum in Aiguebelle, some distance away. When Benassis becomes mayor, he arranges to have the cretins transported to Aiguebelle, despite opposition from the local people. One cretin remains "to be fed and cared for as the adopted child of the commune."
Benassis later moves the other inhabitants of the hamlet to a new, more fertile, site in the valley and installs an irrigation system for them. At the end of the novel, Benassis has a stroke and dies. He is the first to be buried in the new cemetery.
Summary:The twin of the title is Helmer van Wonderen. He is a 54 year old dairy farmer in Noord-Holland, the northwest peninsula of the Netherlands and the year is 2002, 35 years after his only sibling, his twin brother Henk, died. Henk was the front seat passenger of a car driven by Henk's fiancée, Riet, when the car plunged into lake Ijssel. Riet lived; Henk drowned. Helmer's life immediately changed from that of a 19 year old university student in Dutch linguistics to a farmer and successor to their father, a tyrannical and distinctly unlovable man. Henk had been the father's clear favorite, if we accept Helmer's and the narrator's viewpoints. Helmer stays a bachelor and maintains the farm into the present, the time of the novel. His father is elderly and confined to the upstairs. Helmer treats him with disdain; he feeds and bathes him with barely disguised contempt awaiting his death with a vague sense of hope, symbolized by Helmer's re-organizing and painting the interior of their house at the beginning of the book.
Barney Panofsky--like so many of Richler’s protagonists (and like Richler himself, one suspects)--is a hard-drinking, hard-smoking, foul-mouthed, hedonistic writer and producer. He has many sexual exploits in his past and loads of self doubt in his present, together with digitalis and dentures.
But there was only one true love in his life, although he has had three wives: Clara a mysterious artist-poetess whose suicide in Paris helped to establish his fame; "the second Mrs. Panofsky" whom he loathed for all of their short time together; and Miriam, mother of his three children and his partner for decades, until Barney blows it with presumptuous inattention culminating in a vain indiscretion, and she leaves.
Since the end of his second marriage, Barney has lived under the shadow of the unproven accusation of having murdered his best friend, Bernard "Boogie" Moscovitch. Supposedly, he committed the crime in a drunken rage provoked by his discovery of Boogie in flagrante with "the second Mrs Panofsky." Barney may have been drunk, but he didn’t do it. At least, he doesn’t remember doing it.
Barney’s "version" is an autobiographical account written in old age, and annotated with footnotes by his priggish and obsessive son. It is Barney’s side of the murder and his life, and it leads up to and devolves from that fateful evening when, far from being angry, he felt joy in a bedroom scene that would be his ticket to live with Miriam.
He recalls drinking with Boogie and their going for a swim. But he alone still expects to see Boogie stride through the door. Everyone else, including his children, believe that he was the killer, spared imprisonment because Boogie’s body was never found. The weight of Barney’s guilt waxes and wanes.
But remembering anything is increasingly difficult for Barney. He fears dementia. As its specter looms over his memories, it raises doubt about the veracity of his "version."
Shay, a psychiatrist who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), juxtaposes the narrated memories of his patients who are Vietnam veterans to the story of Achilles in Homer's Iliad. He finds that the roots of their illness, like that of the ancient hero, lie in betrayal of duty by senior officers who failed to do "what's right," in the repression of grief, and in the social limitations imposed on expressions of love between men.
These stressors lead to guilt, wrongful substitution, and dangerous rage, called the "berserk" state. The mental pathology is fostered by an equally wrongful failure to honor the enemy; return to "normal" is never possible. The book concludes medically with recommendations for prevention.
The story of a woman artist's slow decline into dementia and death as told through the eyes, words, and reflections of her philosophy professor son. Through his memories of their 1950s life together, he reconstructs a speculative analysis of her early married life with his soil-scientist, Russian-immigrant father.
The one older brother becomes a neuropathologist who investigates the very disease that slowly strips their mother of herself. Their father tends to her growing needs at the family farm, but he dies suddenly and she must be placed in an institution where one nurse alone seems to respect her dignity.
The brothers' rivalries and misunderstandings are recapitulated in their different responses to their father's death and their mother's illness: the physician retreats to scientific explanations of the "scar tissue" in her brain; the philosopher looks for evidence of personhood and for reassurance that death should not be feared. His obsession with his mother's condition stems from a deeply felt sense of guilt; it destroys his marriage and condemns him to depression, hypochondria, and shame as he creates and diagnoses the same illness in himself, long before it can be detected by doctors.
In dire financial straits, the physician-researcher, Dr. Malcolm Sayres (Robin Williams), accepts a clinical job for which he is decidedly unsuited: staff physician in a chronic-care hospital. His charges include the severely damaged, rigid, and inarticulate victims of an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica. Sayres makes a connection between their symptoms and Parkinson’s disease. With the hard-won blessing of his skeptical supervisor, he conducts a therapeutic trial using the new anti-Parkinson drug, L-Dopa.
The first patient to "awaken" is Leonard Lowe (Robert De Niro) who, despite being "away" for many years, proves to be a natural leader, with a philosophical mind of his own. Other patients soon display marked improvement and their stories are told in an aura of fund-raising celebration marked by happy excursions.
Gradually, however, problems develop: patients have trouble adapting to the radical changes in themselves and the world; Leonard grows angry with the imperfection of his rehabilitation; the horrifying side effects of L-Dopa appear; and Leonard’s mother (Ruth Nelson), initially happy for her son’s recovery, is later alienated by the concomitant arousal of his individuality, sexuality, and independence. The film ends with "closure of the therapeutic window" and marked regression in some patients, but not before they have awakened clinical commitment and a new ability to express feelings in their shy doctor.
Fiona has Alzheimer's disease and Grant must finally place her in an institution. He is dutiful in his caregiver role and respectful of her past beauty and affection. To his horror however, he watches Fiona establish a romantic bond with another demented patient, Aubrey, whose appearance, behavior, and education are nothing like Grant's. At first, Grant resents the threat, then he gradually accepts Fiona's need.
The situation is aggravated when Aubrey's wife, Marian, brings him home. She really does not want him there, but cannot otherwise keep her house. Fiona is miserable and begins to lose weight. Grant awkwardly tries to encourage Marian to send Aubrey back, or at least to allow regular visits. She is unwilling, but eventually she relents. However, Fiona improves anyway, her disease having rapidly eradicated the memory of Aubrey, while Grant and Marian are exchanging telephone messages about the possibility of a date.
On 15 March 1977, the acclaimed Quebec writer, Hubert Aquin (HA) born 1929, blew out his brains on the grounds of Montreal's Villa Maria, a convent girls' school, where his first wife had been educated and only steps from the Westmount home that he shared with his psychiatrist partner, Andrée Yanacopoulu (herself now a writer of medical history) and their nine-year old son, Emmanuel. Yanacopoulo had known of the suicide plan well in advance and, as part of a pact, had agreed not to stop it.
Through a series of interviews with family, ex-family, friends, lovers, colleagues, secretaries, students, and cleaning ladies, mostly between 1977 and 1983, Sheppard conducts an "investigation" to determine why Aquin ended his life at that time and in that way; and why his partner allowed it. Only a single interview seems to have been conducted after 1985. Each chapter is preceded by an extensive citation from one of Aquin's four novels, followed by stage direction notes for music, sound effects, and mood, and comprised of situated testimony written as dialogue for a film script.
Just as many explanations for Aquin's suicide emerge from this inquiry as there are witnesses. The causes range from the political, through the physical, psychological, social, symbolic, and emotional, to the spiritual. For each witness, they are the truth. They include 1. the failure of the recently elected separatist government to declare Quebec to be a sovereign nation; 2. Aquin's much publicized dismissal from a newspaper job, which he had counted on for a prominent editorial opportunity; 3. the failure of one (or several) love affair(s); 4. the collapse of two marriages; 5. estrangement from the two sons of his first marriage; 6. chronic ill health due to alcoholic epilepsy; 7. unresolved conflicts with his parents; 8. the result of his own writing which displayed a longstanding fascination with sex, death, violence, and suicide; 9. the result of writer's block; 10. a "classic" capitulation of a "québécois" male to the tyranny of women, either a "québécoise" mother or--(take your choice)-- a non-québécoise lover; 11. a covenant with 9 year-old boys crossing several generations; 12. the destiny of a man with a death wish, a chronic predisposition to self killing, who, according to one engaging friend (Jacques Languirand), had probably already committed suicide in a previous life as a late Antique Roman, and would likely do again--perhaps already has.
Sheppard dedicates his book to more than one hundred suicides from Sappho to Kurt Cobain. He shapes the responses of his subjects by his pointed questions and the juxtaposition of their answers to advance his overriding theory that Aquin's suicide was his finest work of art. All the varying explanations co-exist peacefully within Aquin's immortality, which resides in the minds of those who remember and grieve for him. No single interpretation is more plausible than another. Sheppard explicitly links these multiple "truths" to the early film work of Kurosawa; we are also reminded of Iain Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost and The Dream of Scipio (see this database).