Doctors in Fiction: Lessons from Literature
- Coulehan, Jack
- Date of entry: Dec-08-2009
- Last revised: Dec-07-2009
Doctors in Fiction. Lessons from Literature is an interesting collection of short essays about fictional physicians by Borys Surawicz and Beverly Jacobson. The authors, one a cardiologist (Surawicz) and the other a freelance writer, discuss more than 30 physicians drawn from novels, short stories, and drama, and representing a fictional time frame from the late 12th to the early 21st century. In each chapter the authors present one or more of these physicians in context, briefly introducing the work, the writer, and a précis of social context.
Dr. Andrew Manson in A. J. Cronin's The Citadel and Dr. Martin Arrowsmith in Sinclair Lewis's Arrowsmith appear in the section entitled "Idealistic Doctors." Other examples of "good" physicians include Tertius Lydgate (Middlemarch), Bernard Rieux (The Plague), and Thomas Stockman (An Enemy of the People). At the other end of the spectrum are failures and burnt-out cases, like alcoholic psychiatrist Dick Diver in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night and the debauched abortionist Dr. Harry Wilbourne in Faulkner's The Wild Palms.
Some of the best examples of fallen doctors appear in Anton Chekhov's stories and plays. Chekhov, a practicing physician himself, well understood the triumphs and tragedies of the medical experience. Surawicz and Jacobson single out Dr. Andrei Ragin, the dispirited medical director of Chekhov's Ward 6 for special attention. They also touch briefly on Dymov, an idealistic physician who dies as a result of diphtheria he contracted from a patient (The Grasshopper); Korolyov, a young doctor who develops an empathic bond with a woman who suffers from chronic anxiety ("A Doctor's Visit"); Startsev, a practitioner who grows to love money more than his patients' welfare("Ionych"); and Astrov, the dedicated proto-environmentalist physician in Uncle Vanya.
Two of the most striking figures in Doctors in Fiction arise from contemporary popular novels, although their fictional lives take place in an earlier time. The first is Dr. Adelia Aguilar, the protagonist of several mystery novels by Ariana Franklin. Aguilar is a graduate of the University of Salerno and serves as a forensic consultant to King Henry II of England in the 1170s. The other is Dr. Stephen Maturin, well known to millions of readers as the particular friend of Captain Jack Aubrey in Patrick O'Brian's series of novels about the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Maturin is not only a famous physician and naturalist, but also a British undercover intelligence agent.