Wednesday, May 17, 2006

On Being Ill

Sometime ago I read Virginia Woolf's essay 'On Being Ill' in a moment of essay avoidance. I don't remember much about it, except that Woolf wondered why illness: "has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature".

Why indeed?

Having been ill with a mystery, reoccurring virus myself I decided to go in search of contemporary books and short stories which deal with illness as a prime theme. Needless to say I'm not getting very far and except for an AL Kennedy short story called 'A Wrong Thing' in which the protagonist is lying in bed in a foreign hotel being outwardly ill and paranoid about being ill in a foreign country, but also inwardly considering their failing relationship. So I don't know if that means the story's prime theme is illness at all....


Catherine said...


Just a few thoughts in response to your post about illness. I’m not sure how ‘contemporary’ you want the stories, but here are some suggestions (I studied some of them as part of a subject called ‘Writing the experience of the body’ at La Trobe University):

 Take me to Paris, Johnny by John Foster (HIV/AIDS)
 Patrimony by Philip Roth (a father’s illness)
 Scar tissue by Michael Ignatieff (neurological illness)
 The falling woman by Susan Hawthorne (epilepsy)
 A leg to stand on by Oliver Sacks (leg injury)
 On writing by Stephen King (touches on the aftermath of his accident)

Earlier ones:
 A very easy death by Simone de Beauvoir
 Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

Hope this gives you some new reading matter!

Best wishes,

E G Robertson said...

Thanks for this list Catherine. I'll add them to my list of things to dig out of the library when I get a chance to read something other than the good, bad and ugly, which lands on my desk each morning!