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Views & Reviews Between the Lines

Desperate house calls

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 20 January 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b212
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

    Optimism is the parent of despair, while pessimism allows the mind to accustom itself to the inevitable disappointments of human existence by degrees, just as some drugs induce a state of tolerance. Pessimists, moreover, have the better sense of humour, for they have a livelier apprehension of pretension and absurdity.

    In a meritocracy, furthermore, those who fail must either indulge in elaborate mental contortions to disguise reality from themselves or sink into a deep melancholy. Perhaps this explains why so much of the best US literature is sad: misery is the fruit of hope.

    Tennessee Williams is par excellence the poet playwright of despair. One of his last plays, …

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