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Literature and Medicine

English Literature 391W - Spring 2020

Because illness, disease, pain, and fear of death are essential features of the human condition, these themes frequently appear in major literary works, a survey of which we will read in this class. We will focus especially on the suffering, helplessness, insight, and enlightenment experienced by both the ill and those who care for them. Works responding to the devastating plagues in the medieval and early modern periods hold especial interest for those studying illness and medicine; we will read works on plague by Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Defoe, with Sontag's "Illness as Metaphor" providing a starting point for our analysis. Two twentieth-century novels--"The Plague," by Camus, and "Blindness," by Saramago--will show us the additional imaginative possibilities of plague as metaphor and allegory. We will also read shorter works of fiction by Tolstoy, Chekhov, Mann, Eliot, Gilman, and Porter, as well as Edson's play "Wit." Students will be encouraged to consider how illness, disease, and fear of death affect both individual human beings and entire societies. In addition, students will fulfill their writing-intensive requirement through careful drafting, peer review, and revision; they will be encouraged to develop arguments with sound reasoning, appropriate structure, and well-judged textual support. Prerequisite: Writing 1.

Section 01

Literature and Medicine
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