The Corner

Politics, Heal Thyself

Kathryn:  While Andrew Ferguson is undoubtedly right that there is no reason to expect a doctor to make a good politician, doctors can make fine writers, having insights into the human condition vouchsafed to few of us civilians.  Our own Theodore Dalrymple is a good example. 

In fact I had a conversation once with “Theodore” (real name Tony) about whether there was any particular literary approach common to doctor-writers like Somerset Maugham (not much read now, but a great storyteller), Smollett (ditto), and Chekhov.  We concluded that there was–a certain detachment and distance, obviously essential requirements for a job which consists in part of watching people die.

The example I raised was Maugham, who as a young doctor in London’s East End had to do the paperwork for the corpses of suicides fished out of the river Thames.  Up to that point, Maugham said (in his part-autobiographical novel Of Human Bondage) he had supposed that thwarted love was the usual cause of suicide.  In fact, he learned, financial problems were far more often the cause.  That’s the kind of “cold eye” insight you get only, or mostly, from doctors.

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