Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Medical and Dickensian: 2008

As last year, I recommend the British Medical Journal's Christmas issue for its usual combination of the strange and mildly morbid. This year, for instance, we have Festive medical myths, a Frankincense: systematic review, Rugby (the religion of Wales) and its influence on the Catholic church: should Pope Benedict XVI be worried?, Churchill’s flu poem, Reappraising Florence Nightingale, A symphony of maladies (occupational diseases of musicians), Fantastic feeding funnels (a look at a rather specialist motif in art, such as that of Bosch and Kahlo), and Please, sir, I want some more (a look at the dietetics of Oliver Twist in the workhouse).

The last piece is nicely revisionist. Rather as hostile commentators like "Jack Nastyface" - Jack Tar: book launch - exaggerated the ghastliness of shipboard food, it appears that Dickens, angry about his own deprived childhood, exaggerated the poverty of diet in the workhouse. He perhaps wasn't even so traumatised by working in a blacking factory, if the story that he wrote advertising jingles for Warren's Jet Blacking is true (see A twist in the tale, Guardian, 1 November 2003). It's not the only example of Dickens' misinformation about social evils: for instance, John Sutherland has commented about the the older Magwitch in Great Expectations - a model capitalist at that - being under threat of death at a point some years after the real-world abolition of the death penalty for returning transportees. This brings me to Scrooge – the Sequel (1) ("Ebenezer Scrooge has been transformed into a kind and charitable man. But can it last?"): this is the first episode of John Sutherland's ongoing story in the Guardian. A Christmas Carol sequels have been done before - see the addendum to Noir and the North Kent Marshes - but given Sutherland's background in witty and deeply informed academic litcrit, his Guardian version looks worth following. I'll link to installments as they're added.

Scrooge: the Sequel (1)
Scrooge: the Sequel (2)
Scrooge: the Sequel (3)

On a medical-meets-Dickensian theme still, the Dec 23 episode of the BBC's Holby City hospital drama was, interestingly, also based on A Christmas Carol.

- Ray

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