Past Caring

Doctors in Dickens

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e1193 (Published 22 February 2012)
Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1193

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  1. Wendy Moore, freelance writer and author, London
  1. wendymoore{at}ntlworld.com

Everyone has a favourite character from Dickens, whether it’s a selfless hero like David Copperfield, a rapacious villain like Fagin, or a half crazed eccentric like Miss Havisham. But anyone with great expectations of finding a likeable medical character in Dickens’s novels will be sorely disappointed.

Dickens depicted about 50 doctors in his books. But, with one or two exceptions, his medical men range from bumbling fools to negligent crooks. At best, Dickens’s doctors stand by helplessly and mop a clammy brow as a patient expires from fever or consumption. At worst, they conspire in insurance swindles and abet murder. His antipathy to the medical profession is hardly surprising.

Born 200 years ago into modest origins, Dickens experienced at first …

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