Virginia Woolf begins her 1926 essay On Being Ill with a long sentence—“lavishly cumulative,” Hermione Lee calls it, and “highly De Quinceyan.” It runs thus:

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us by the act of sickness, how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the harpers when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist’s arm-chair and confuse his “Rinse the mouth—rinse the mouth” with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us—when we think of this, as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.

Novels, she goes on to suggest, should have been devoted to influenza, odes to pneumonia, lyrics to toothache. But all she can think of is the attempt by De Quincey in The Opium Eater, and she speculates that “there must be a volume or two about disease scattered through the pages of Proust.”

Woolf was ill when she wrote On Being Ill, but not necessarily ill when T.S. Eliot printed it in the Criterion, or when, five years later, she typeset her own edition of it for the Hogarth Press. Yet no one seems to have asked, perhaps no one thought it quite idiomatic to ask, whether this notion of illness as a subject without a literature (“Illness: An Unexploited Mine” was the title given to the essay in an American reprint) really bore examination. De Quincey “attempted something of the sort.” Then Proust. But for the rest Woolf asserts that “literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear.” Whereas the truth of the matter is that “all day, all night the body intervenes; blunts or sharpens, colours or discolors, turns to wax in the warmth of June, hardens to tallow in the murk of February.”

Woolf might have liked this from Lichtenberg:

My body is that part of the world which my thoughts are able to change. Even imaginary illnesses can become real ones. In the rest of the world my hypotheses cannot disturb the order of things.1

And another from the same source:

During my nervous illness I very often found that that which usually offended only my moral feeling now overflowed into the physical. When Dieterich said one day: God strike me dead! I felt so ill I had to forbid him my room for a time.2

But then again, Woolf might not have liked, might not have been in the mood for, any let or hindrance to the cantering exclusivity of her thought. Charles Lamb, whom she admired and imitated, wrote an (admittedly somewhat shallow) essay called “The Convalescent,” which is mostly about this matter of altered perception in illness. Robert Louis Stevenson, whom Woolf for the most part despised—and I do not understand this: What had Stevenson done to earn quite such a degree of enmity, so that, when Woolf met someone new, his hating Stevenson counted as a recommendation?—poor old Stevenson wrote a really beautiful account, called “Ordered South,” of traveling to resorts for the sake of one’s health, and coming to terms with the prospect of death.3 And if Proust is to be filleted for his perceptions, then what about Dickens?

Clearly there was much more to the literature of illness—I mean the literature of the perception, the lived experience, the phenomenology of illness—than Woolf allowed. Did Burton found the genre in The Anatomy of Melancholy, or does that trail lead elsewhere? At the very least I would have guessed that either Woolf or her editor, Eliot, might have thought of the great, bravura account of the course of a fever in Donne’s Devotions (1624), since both of them wrote notable essays on Donne, and Woolf was a more thoroughgoing enthusiast of Donne’s prose than was Eliot. She was quite prepared to suggest that his prose was better than his poetry, which she nevertheless adored. Here she is in 1924 addressing the readers of American Vogue:

There is a poet, whose love of women was all stuck about with briars; who railed and cursed; was fierce and tender; passionate and obscene. In the very obscurity of his mind there is something that intrigues us on; his rage scorches but sets on fire; and in the thickest of his thorn bushes are glimpses of the highest heavens, and ecstasies of pure and windless calms. Whether as a young man gazing from narrow Chinese eyes upon a world that half allures, half disgusts him, or with his flesh dried upon his cheekbones, wrapped in his winding sheet, excruciated, dead in St. Paul’s, one cannot help but love John Donne.4

And here she is writing earlier on Donne’s sermons:


For three hundred years or more a dead preacher called John Donne has cumbered our shelves. The other day Mr Pearsall Smith touched him with his wand, and, behold!—the folios quake, the pages shiver, out steps the passionate preacher; the fibres of our secular hearts are bent and bowed beneath the unaccustomed tempest.5

She is talking here about a slim volume of selections from the sermons, made by the American scholar Logan Pearsall Smith, and published in 19196—one of three notable American contributions to the early-twentieth-century revival of Donne’s reputation. The others were Eliot’s reassessment of the poetry and—more by luck, one must say, than by judgment—Ernest Hemingway’s intervention.

Hemingway was an intelligent man but not notably well versed in seventeenth-century literature. According to Carlos Baker’s account, he spent a day in 1940 riffling through Shakespeare and the Bible in search of a title for a novel he was near completing, before turning to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s Oxford Book of English Prose, in which he found the now celebrated passage beginning “No man is an island, entire of itself,” and ending “therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” This comes from the Devotions. Quiller-Couch’s anthology had been published in 1925. We think that Donne was always revered as a prose writer, and that the “for whom the bell tolls” passage would always have been considered a touchstone of English prose. We have heard it declaimed from the pulpit, and from the platform at school, whenever or wherever an occasion required some elevation of tone. “No man is an island” has become proverbial.

But the introduction to Pearsall Smith’s selection from the sermons tells us that “little attention has been paid to the excellence of [Donne’s] prose,” that it is “almost unrepresented” in prose anthologies, and that “unlike Jeremy Taylor or Sir Thomas Browne, Donne was famous first of all as a poet, and save for his little-known Devotions, he wrote no small book, no Holy Dying or Urn Burial in which he gave evidence of his powers as a prose writer.”7

And yet that “little-known” work, whose full title, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions and severall steps in my Sicknes, seems so unpromising, is very much a part of that moment of rediscovery of Donne in the 1920s, of which we are the beneficiaries. It was edited in 1923 by John Sparrow, then still a schoolboy, at the behest of Geoffrey Keynes, the eminent surgeon and great amateur bibliographer, brother of Maynard. (Woolf owed her life to Geoffrey Keynes, who in 1913, after she had taken 100 grams of veronal, drove her husband at full speed across London to get a stomach pump; many years later she sent him in gratitude the manuscript, in purple ink, of On Being Ill.) It is Sparrow who, in passing, gives a page number and reference to “the lovely passage beginning ‘All mankinde is of one Author,'” the section leading on to “No man is an island.”8

Sparrow is an uncannily assured editor for his age, but he does not emphasize what must have attracted Keynes professionally, and what struck Edmund Gosse earlier, that we have here, as we have in Woolf’s essay, the actual product of illness, that Donne “sat up in bed feverishly scribbling his reflections.” Gosse goes on:

Nowhere in the whole of Donne’s writings do we obtain quite so personal an impression of him as in these strange notes concerning the progress of his illness in 1623. Nowhere do we seem to come so close to him, to hear him speaking so intimately; and that no one has hitherto observed, so far as I know, the autobiographical value of these confessions is due, I believe, to the fact that, as Donne afterwards digested and published them, they are buried in masses of scholastic divinity, which has ceased to interest us. Nothing like them had been noted down before; even in their wording they had an astonishing modernness….9

The Devotions are divided into twenty-three sections, and in each section there is a meditation, an “expostulation,” and a prayer. Modern selections tend to give only the medita-tions, that is, the sections in which the story of the progress of the illness, a relapsing fever, is told. Certainly these are the parts most likely to appeal to the secular-minded reader, but one should not pay too much attention to the pessimism of the early advocates of Donne over the readability of the work as a whole. It is not long—less than 150 pages in Sparrow’s edition—and it is carefully constructed, beginning with a Latin poem of twenty-two lines, whose phrases, unevenly chopped up into twenty-three parts, are set at the beginning of each section.


The Vintage edition, otherwise complete, drops the page on which this poem is set out, thereby omitting what Donne would have seen as the key to the work. But the reader can reconstruct it from the section headings, and can learn its meaning from the English paraphrases Donne also supplies: “The First Alteration, the First Grudging, of the Sickness”; “The Patient Takes His Bed”; “The Physician Is Sent For”; “The Physician Comes”; “The Physician Is Afraid,” and so on. Each of these “periods” or “stations” of the narrative (the Latin poem’s title uses both terms) is taken as an occasion for meditation, like the Stations of the Cross. But the narrative is not generalized or representative: it is Donne’s individual case history, as is shown in section 12, when the physicians, in order to draw a noxious vapor from the poet’s head, tie dead pigeons to his feet. Since we are told that the book was ready for publication before Donne had left the sickroom, we have to imagine that he actually wrote it with dead pigeons tied to his feet. It is probably the only book we will ever read (if we decide to read it) of which this could be said with any certainty. Donne lies there and asks himself what he could have done to breed or breathe the vapors in his head that seem to be killing him:

They tell me it is my melancholy; did I infuse, did I drink in melancholy into myself? It is my thoughtfulness; was I not made to think? It is my study; doth not my calling call for that? I have done nothing willfully, perversely towards it, yet must suffer in it, die by it. There are too many examples of men that have been their own executioners, and that have made hard shift to be so: some have always had poison about them, in a hollow ring upon their finger, and some in their pen that they used to write with; some have beat out their brains at the wall of their prison, and some have eat the fire out of their chimneys; and one is said to have come nearer our case than so, to have strangled himself, though his hands were bound, by crushing his throat between his knees. But I do nothing upon myself, and yet am mine own executioner.

Donne is brilliant both at examining himself (for instance, in the sudden loneliness of sickness) and in his observations of his physician—the doctor’s fear of contact with the disease, his calling for a second opinion, his candor, his willingness to share the potential honor for curing the disease by asking other experts. Here is the opening of “The Physician Is Afraid”:

I observe the physician with the same diligence as he the disease; I see he fears, and I fear with him; I overtake him, I overrun him, in his fear, and I go faster, because he makes his pace slow; I fear the more, because he disguises his fear, and I see it with the more sharpness, because he would not have me see it. He knows that his fear shall not disorder the practice and exercise of his art, but he knows that my fear may disorder the effect and working of his practice.

Donne sets forth the way fear seeks to mimic other emotions:

It shall seem love, a love of having; and it is but a fear, a jealous and suspicious fear of losing. It shall seem valor in despising and undervaluing danger; and it is but fear in an overvaluing of opinion and estimation, and a fear of losing that. A man that is not afraid of a lion is afraid of a cat; not afraid of starving, and yet is afraid of some joint of meat at the table presented to feed him; not afraid of the sound of drums and trumpets and shot and those which they seek to drown, the last cries of men, and is afraid of some particular harmonious instrument; so much afraid as that with any of these the enemy might drive this man, otherwise valiant enough, out of the field.

That is, a normally brave man might be frightened off the battlefield by the sight of a cat or a shoulder of roast pork or a lute: Donne’s strength as a psychologist derives in part from his unwillingness to section off these extreme examples of phobic behavior from the concept of fear itself. He does not call them madness. This is what fear is, he says, and yet “I know not what fear is, nor I know not what it is that I fear now; I fear not the hastening of my death, and yet I do fear the increase of the disease. I should belie nature if I should deny that I feared this; and if I should say that I feared death, I should belie God.” In a striking expression, in the first meditation, he says that “we die, and cannot enjoy death, because we die in this torment of sickness.”


We speak of prose and the history of prose and make anthologies of English prose, but really there is no such thing as prose. The term is a convenient dustbin for that which is neither poetry nor fiction. We speak of prose style and its history, but really it is better to sort things out by genre. There is the sermon and it has a history. There is the essay, the speech, the tract. There are letters of all kinds, letters home, love letters, letters to the editor. There are prayers, meditations, spiritual exercises. There are the narratives—the slave narrative, the captive narrative, the reformed teetotaler’s tale—themselves veering off in the direction of the tract, to the extent that they are tales of salvation and triumph. And in the contemporary world there is a new abundance of sickness narratives, which are tracts of a secular sort, written for the comfort and empowerment of fellow sufferers: I broke my favorite limb but thought my way back to wholesomeness! I survived cancer by the lavish use of enemas! My dearest relative died, and look what a great time I’ve had since!

When Gosse said of Donne’s Devotions that nothing like them had been noted down before (he was a well-read man, and I think we can take his word for it), he would nevertheless have been intensely and painfully aware that something like them had been attempted since. For his own father, Philip Henry Gosse, had set down and had printed an account of the sufferings of his wife, Edmund’s mother, during the treatment for the breast cancer which eventually killed her. This publication is exceedingly rare: of the five surviving copies, four derive from members of the Gosse family. In his life of his father, Edmund says of it that it is written with “distressing ability.” The picture given is “exceedingly difficult to describe, so harsh, so minute, so vivid are the lines, so little are the customary conventions of the memoir preserved. This little work, which was addressed, of course, to an extremely limited circle, was received with great displeasure.” Few people in that elect milieu apparently understood “the tenderness and melancholy which were concealed beneath this acrid and positive manner of writing.”10

Gosse the father tried to do two things in his Memorial of the Last Days on Earth of Emily Gosse. As a naturalist, a scientist, he wanted to set down an accurate account of an attempt to treat his wife’s breast cancer according to a secret remedy, touted by a dubious American doctor, Jesse Weldon Fell, involving regular applications of an ointment based on Sanguinaria canadensis, bloodroot or red puccoon. This common plant, part of the American Indian pharmacopoeia, has in fact been shown to possess anti-tumor properties. All Gosse knew was that the method of treatment, which involved removing the skin from the breast with nitric acid, scoring the flesh with a scalpel, and gradually detaching the tumor, involved weeks of excruciating pain, which they had not been led to expect.

It had been the wrong treatment. Although Gosse himself makes a point of not blaming Dr. Fell, he does say that he and his wife were “greatly deceived” as to the painlessness of the procedure. When they realize that the cancer has spread to the point of being untreatable, Emily, the wife, opts for homeopathy. But this in turn involves a sudden and immediate withdrawal from the opiates that have hitherto been administered. In addition to an excruciating and ineffective cure for her cancer, Emily has to suffer cold turkey. Even though the alternative treatment, instant excision by surgery, was brutal, it was not perhaps as long-windedly brutal as this.

The second purpose in writing the Memorial runs rather counter to the first: instead of a tale of bungling, deception, and needless suffering, we have a story of triumph, addressed to the “saints of God,” to “them who have obtained like precious faith with us” (that is, fellow Plymouth Brethren). In this story, Emily Gosse makes, on what must have been her fiftieth birthday, a solemn dedication of herself to God, and asks that the year now beginning, 1856, be a year of much blessing, a year of jubilee. God’s answer is a year of blessing indeed, for His will is revealed in the removing of Emily to His presence. That is the meaning and purpose of the cancer. For, as Gosse says,

It is not for the eternal bliss of God’s children, that their nest should be undisturbed; and therefore he pulls it to pieces and says, “Set your affections on things above!” He cares for our eternal happiness, and makes our temporal joy give place to the eternal.

The editors of Areté, in reprinting the Memorial, have understandably cut many passages of this kind, in the interest of serving Gosse’s first purpose: the unflinching presentation of the case history, as in the moment when the cure seems to work, and the cancerous growth falls out of its cavity:

There it lay on the table, a hard and solid block of black substance, resembling in size and shape a penny bun, deeply scored on one surface, and on the other nearly smooth. And then on the breast of my beloved sufferer was the corresponding cavity, raw and partly lined with pus, but presenting an apparently healthy appearance.

Remember that Edmund Gosse, the son, forbears, in Father and Son, to print the word “cancer” in his account of his mother telling his father of the diagnosis. Yet here is the father, with his unbearably homely comparison to the penny bun, telling us not only what the growth is like, but also what his wife’s breast is like after the tumor has gone. It is an extraordinary document, however you take it.

But it is worth remembering, when reading the Areté text, that much of its evangelical, hortatory quality has been removed. Emily Gosse, the daughter of American parents, was a keen author and distributor of tracts—short narratives of an uplifting nature, often no more than four pages long. The Memorial, eighty small pages designed for a limited circulation among the “saints,” is a narrative of an exemplary death:

Even up to the last her mind was set upon doing her Master’s work; nearly a hundred “British Messengers” the excellent publisher, Mr. Drummond of Stirling, had been in the habit of sending her every month for distribution, and on this very last day, one of the servants was seated at a table by her bedside, with heaps of Tracts and Messengers before her, folding and addressing each, under her dictation. It was her last act of earthly service.

Worth remembering also that Emily believed she would not be long parted from her husband. She thought that the events prophesied in the Book of Revelation (the fall of Babylon and so forth) would take place in Europe “a few years from the era in which we live.” Rome would fall soon through the blessed work of her fellow laborers in Ireland (converting Catholics), through “the faith and suffering of the dear persecuted Tuscans; liberty and light breaking in upon Sardinia; the glorious opening for Gospel truth in Spain and Spanish America….” This was the good news she was spreading, as she staggered between home and her Doctor Fell, who, he later wrote to a friend, was “operating upon John Bull and trying to relieve him of some of his ‘brittish gold.'”


That penny bun, deeply scored on one surface and on the other smooth—that detail which, with its vividness and unexpected sweetness, forces our assent—is the kind of thing we expect to find in the greatest of writers, the sort of thing we have looked for in Flaubert:

She [his sister Caroline] seemed much taller and much more beautiful than when she was alive, with the long white veil coming down to her feet. In the morning, when everything was done, I gave her a long last farewell kiss in her coffin. I bent over her, and as I lowered my head into the coffin I felt the lead buckle under my hands.

Nothing in the story he is telling stands or falls on that detail of the buckling lead, only that, in noting that he noticed it happening, Flaubert must be telling the truth. In another letter he describes the same deathbed vigil:

I was reading Montaigne; my eyes kept turning from my book to the corpse; her husband and the priest were snoring; and I kept telling myself, as I saw all this, that forms disappear, that the idea alone remains; and I kept feeling thrills at turns of phrase in the Montaigne, and reflected that he too would be forgotten. It was freezing, the window was open because of the odor, and from time to time I got up to look at the stars, calm, radiant, eternal.11

The inconsolable husband asleep, the window open because of the odor, the attention divided between the corpse and the thrilling turns of phrase in Montaigne—this is experience credibly recorded. And here is a passage from the Goncourt journal, April 25, 1883:

Our old friend Turgenev is a real man of letters. He has just had a cyst removed from his stomach, and he told Daudet, who went to see him a few days ago: “During the operation I thought of our dinners and I searched for the words with which I could give you an exact impression of the steel cutting through my skin and entering my flesh…something like a knife cutting through a banana.”

Turgenev had been conscious throughout his operation because the doctors had given him ether rather than chloroform. D.J. Enright, in his Faber Book of Fevers and Frets (an anthology of writings about illness, now out of print12 ), gives this passage directly after Fanny Burney’s horrific account of her own operation for breast cancer, carried out in 1811 without any form of anesthetic at all—she could feel the knives scraping away at the tumor. (She made a full recovery and survived till 1840.)

Turgenev’s banana turns up again in Julian Barnes’s translation and edition of Alphonse Daudet’s In the Land of Pain. Daudet, says Barnes,

was “a true man of letters” in the Turgenev sense. He always had been. When he was sixteen, his brother Henri had died, at which moment their father gave vent to a great howl of “He’s dead! He’s dead!” Daudet was aware, he wrote later, of his own bifurcated response to the scene: “My first Me was in tears, but my second Me was thinking, ‘What a terrific cry! It would be really good in the theatre!'” From that point on he was “homo duplex, homo duplex!” “I’ve often thought about this dreadful duality. This terrible second Me is always there, sitting in a chair watching, while the first Me stands up, performs actions, lives, suffers, struggles away. This second Me that I’ve never been able to get drunk, or make cry, or put to sleep. And how much he sees into things! And how he mocks!”

Naturally, when Barnes talks about this dual quality in a writer, this division of labor between sufferer and observer, he is about to mention Flaubert, his own touchstone. “The artist,” says Flaubert, “to my way of thinking, is a monstrosity, something outside nature.” And Flaubert is a notable example of the writer with the “chip of ice in the heart” (Graham Greene’s expression). He surrenders neither to grief nor to sleep. He sits up reading Montaigne, although this, we might feel, is a better tribute to his dead sister than going mad would be.

When looking for interesting writing about sickness, we are obliged to consider a number of different genres or forms. For a genre can be a great midwife. A thing can be said in a satire that could never be said in a pastoral. A mock heroic gives us the opportunity to look at something that has never been looked at before—Swift’s poem on a London shower being the great example. Just as a letter written by a woman to another woman (Fanny Burney to her sister) may confide intimate details that could never be divulged to a man, so a diary written for posterity (Pepys) may have a quite different quality from a journal designed to be handed down as a family treasure (Evelyn). Gosse ignores “the customary conventions of the memoir” and ends up by appalling his circle of saints; the scientific report, rather than the pious memoir form, had been midwife to his account.

Woolf had thought that the prime themes of literature were love and battle and jealousy. Yet if we were to try to find great accounts of battle from among the poets alone, vast areas of history would remain uncovered. Generally speaking, poets have liked war too much (or liked their patrons too much) to be honest about it. We have to turn to diaries and letters and other sorts of document, while waiting for the novelists to be born. And we have to seek out the genre that will permit the description of sickness.

Alphonse Daudet, after a life of “sensuality,” succumbed in the 1880s to tertiary syphilis in the form of tabes dorsalis, a wasting of his backbone. Being a “born man of letters” he wanted to write about it, a book about pain. He knew what the title would be—La Doulou, Provençal for pain. But he could not work out what the form would be. He did not want it to be fictional, but how, if it was to be a memoir, could he discuss, for instance, the “sexual desires and longings for death that illness provokes”? He was a married man. Syphilis was known to be hereditary. He did not want to leave “a testament of complaint against my family.” He thought desperately of a fictional device for keeping the autobiography at one remove:

Listen, it begins like this. The terrace of the hotel at Lamalou [the thermal station north of Béziers which Daudet frequented]. Someone says, “He’s dead!” Then a character sketch of myself, done by myself. Then the dead man’s servant slips his notebook into my hand. You see, like that, it’s not me. I’m not even married in the book, and that will give me a chapter to make the comparison between suffering in the midst of a family and suffering alone. This notebook allows me a fragmented form, so that I can talk about everything, without the need for transition.

Nothing survives of this intended framing device of fiction, against which his family argued strongly and perhaps effectively. All that has come down to us is the text, published by his widow’s permission in 1930, of this notebook of fragments, which Barnes here offers us in his own translation, with a perfectly judged introduction and notes—a wonderful volume.

Daudet observes his fellow sufferers at Lamalou:

The Russian who can’t move his arms and has a servant to roll cigarettes for him. They have a row: the servant has to make furious gestures for both of them.

Among the ladies. A dear old nun. “Haven’t had a bath for fifty years,” she says as she comes in.

The man who drove the Tsar’s train along a stretch of track the Nihilists had reportedly mined. A twenty-minute journey, at the end of which the illness declared itself: pain in the eyes, then blindness.

My doppelganger. The fellow whose illness most closely resembles your own. How you love him, and how you make him tell you everything! I’ve got two such, an Italian painter and a member of the Court of Appeal. Between them, these two comprise my suffering.

Daudet seeks out these doppelgangers in order to study the progression of his disease. Before long he knows, from their conversation, what the future holds for him. He lists the varieties of pain:

Sometimes, on the sole of the foot, an incision, a thin one, hair-thin. Or a penknife stabbing away beneath the big toenail. The torture of “the boot.” Rats gnawing at the toes with very sharp teeth.

And amid all these woes, the sense of a rocket climbing, climbing up into your skull, and then exploding there as the climax to the show.

“That’s the disease for you,” says Charcot….

I start going to the shower-baths again. A bizarre new pain when they’re rubbing my legs dry. It’s in the tendons of the neck: on the right-hand side when they’re rubbing my left leg, and the left-hand side when they’re doing my right leg. Nerve-racking torture, enough to make you scream.

There is the pain of the disease, and the pain of the cure, which includes being suspended by the jaw for four minutes at a time, for no observable benefit. Daudet lowers himself into the family pool with his copy of Montaigne, an author who, his wife recorded, always had a bad effect on him—he ceased to be the loving father and became shriveled up and hard-hearted, with Montaigne’s egotistical, pessimistic, misogynistic philosophy. His hands, with their constant spasms, curled up, he told Edmond de Goncourt, like dry leaves.

He was shortsighted, but it is striking how much he observed—the sad cry of “Wait while I check” from some fellow patient “feeling to see if his legs are still there.” These observations are made, yes, to be used, but they are made also with a disinterested spirit: the writing of them is an end in itself. And it is this disinterestedness that makes Daudet heroic rather than monstrous. He is a true man of letters. He has Turgenev’s banana to live up to. He must think what his suffering is like, and set it down, before the hotel closes for the season, and the patients disperse to their solitary lives, knowing that only at Lamalou are they understood—only there will they find people truly involved in their disease.

This Issue

February 13, 2003