Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Between the Lines

Till death do us part

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 22 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3906
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

Perhaps the greatest, because unintended, tribute to the triumph of modern medicine is the number of detailed literary accounts now published of illness experienced by patients or witnessed by their relatives: for writers choose as subject matter what strikes them as out of the ordinary or worthy of note. Where illness rather than health is quotidian, therefore, accounts of it will not be frequent. Only where good health is assumed to be normal, the default setting of the human frame, as it were, will the experience of illness be thought worth writing about.

It is not surprising, then, that illness memoirs were less frequent in the 1950s than they are now. Among the most striking …

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