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Views & Reviews Between the Lines

Professional perfection

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 16 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7409
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

Doctors as portrayed in literature are not always saints or heroes, to put it mildly, and so it is surprising to find a saintly doctor in Balzac (1799-1850), a writer whose view of humanity could hardly be called rosy. But the hero of Le Médecin de Campagne (The Country Doctor), Benassis, is perfection itself, both professionally and morally.

The story seems in general to be a rather crude vehicle for Balzac’s own opinions. Benassis, who led a dissolute life in Paris as a medical student when left a fortune by his father, betrays two good women, by the second of whom he has a child. When this child, to whom he was introduced on …

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