Welcome to Literature and Medicine

The module explores literary representations of health and sickness. Our understanding of illness is not simply determined by physical symptoms but influenced by class, gender, and ethnicity, and perceived differently by patients, practitioners, and policymakers. This module examines the myths and metaphors that contribute to our understanding of health and sickness. Topics include anxiety, disability, euthanasia, the doctor-patient relation, pain, and mental health.

Together we will read a selection of short literary texts by authors such as A.S. Byatt, Philip Roth, and Ian McEwan. You will be introduced to a selection of material from the history, philosophy, and sociology of medicine. We will also reflect on the rise of narrative medicine and the requirement from the medical sciences for practice-based evidence.

No medical knowledge required.

Course Syllabus

Week Topic / Readings

Kathryn Montgomery, How Doctors Think (2006) (Chapter One) | Library Link
Rita Charon, Narrative Medicine (2006) (PrefaceChapter One) | Library Link


Introduction to Medical Humanities | Narrative Medicine

How Doctors Think

Video Lesson:
Narrative Medicine

Secondary Readings:

Bleakley, Alan. "What are the 'medical humanities'? Definitions and controversies" Medical Humanities and Medical Education: How the medical humanities can shape better doctors. Routledge, 2015, pp. 40-59. | Download PDF

Crawford, Paul, Brian Brown, Charley Baker, Victoria Tischler and Brian Abrams. Health Humanities. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2015. | Download PDF

Dolan, Brian, editor. Humanitas: Readings in the Development of the Medical Humanities. Virtuoso Press, 2015. | Download PDF

Marini, Maria Giulia. Narrative Medicine. Springer International Publishing, 2016. | Download PDF

Billington, Josie. Is Literature Healthy?.  Oxford University Press,  2016. | Download PDF

Davis, Philip. Reading the Reader. Oxford University Press, 2013. | Download PDF

Whitehead, Anne,. and Angela Woods editors. The Edinburgh Companion To The Critical Medical Humanities. Edinburgh University Press, 2016. | Download PDF

Whitehead, Anne. "The Medical Humanities: A Literary Perspective." Medicine, Health and the Arts: Approaches to the Medical Humanities, edited by Victoria Bates, Alan Bleakley, and Sam Goodman, Routledge, 2014, pp. 107-127 | Download PDF

Brody, Howard. Stories of Sickness. Oxford University Press, 2003. | Download PDF

Mattingly, Cheryl, and Linda Garro. Narrative and the Cultural Construction of Illness and Healing, University of California Press, 2003. | Download PDF

Schleifer, Ronald, and Jerry Vannatta. The Chief Concern of Medicine, University of Michigan Press, 2013. | Download PDF


Charlotte Perkins Gilman, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ (1892) | Library Link


Doctor-Patient Relations | The Yellow Wallpaper 

Video Lesson:
Doctor-Patient Relations

Secondary Readings:

Balint, Michael. The Doctor, His Patient and the Illness. Churchill Livingstone, 2005.| Download PDF

Kleinman, Arthur. "The meaning of symptoms and disorders." The illness narratives: Suffering, healing, and the human condition. Basic books, 1988, pp. 3-30 | Download PDF

Brinkmann, Svend. "Introducing the concept of diagnostic cultures" Diagnostic Cultures. Routledge, 2016, pp. 7-26. | Download PDF

Kelly, Michael P. and Louise M. Millward. "Identity and illness" Identity and Health, edited by David Kelleher and Gerard Leavey. Routledge, 2004, pp. 1-18. | Download PDF

Williams, Simon J., Jonathan Gabe and Michael Calnan, editors. Health, medicine and society. Routledge, 2000. | Download PDF

Furst, Lilian. Between Doctors and Patients.  The University Press of Virginia, 1998. | Download PDF

Miah, Andy, and Emma Rich. "Cyberpatients, Illness Narratives, and Medicalization." The Medicalization of Cyberspace. Routledge, 2008, pp. 59-70.  | Download PDF

Bigelow, Catherine, and Joanne Stone. "Bed Rest in Pregnancy." Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, vol 78, no. 2, 2011, pp. 291–302. |Download PDF

Biggio Jr., Joseph R. "Bed Rest in Pregnancy: Time to Put the Issue to Rest." Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 121, no. 6, 2013, pp. 1158-1160. |Download PDF

McCall, Christina A., David A. Grimes, and Anne Drapkin Lyerly. "“Therapeutic” Bed Rest in Pregnancy: Unethical and Unsupported by Data." Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 121, no. 6, 2013, pp. 1305-1308. |Download PDF

Sundaram, Swathy. Jeffrey S. Harman, and Robert L. Cook. "Maternal Morbidities and Postpartum Depression: An Analysis Using the 2007 and 2008 Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System." Women's Health Issues, vol. 24, no. 4, 2014, pp. 381–388. |Download PDF

Maloni, Judith A. "Lack of evidence for prescription of antepartum bed rest." Expert Review of Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 6, no. 4, 2011, pp. 385–393. doi:10.1586/eog.11.28. | Download PDF


James Kelman, How Late It Was, How Late (1994) (Extract) | Library Link
David Lodge, Therapy (1995) (Extract) | Library Link


Social Construction of Health and Sickness | James Kelman and class | Kierkegaard on anxiety 

Video Lesson:
Social Construction of Health and Sickness

Film Screening:

Gray's Anatomy. dir. Steven Soderburgh (1997)

Secondary Readings:

Leder, Drew. "Rethinking pain: the paradoxical problem." The Distressed Body: Rethinking Illness, Imprisonment, and Healing. University of Chicago Press, 2016, pp. 24-41. | Download PDF

Hardy, Anne. Health and Medicine in Britain Since 1860. Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. | Download PDF

Schrecker, Ted, and Clare Bambra. How politics makes us sick: Neoliberal epidemics. Springer, 2015. | Download PDF

Morris, David B. "What Is Postmodern Illness?" Illness and Culture in the Postmodern Age.  University of California Press, 2000, pp. 50-77. | Download PDF

Gauld, Robin. "The Health Care System in Singapore." Health Care Systems in Europe and Asia, edited by Christian Aspalter et al., Routledge, 2012, pp. 150-166. | Download PDF


Fay Weldon, ‘A Hard Time to be a Father’ (1998)


Gender | Fay Weldon | Illness as Metaphor

Secondary Readings:

Sontag, Susan. Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors. Penguin Books, 2002. | Download PDF

Bourke, Joanna. "Metaphor" The story of pain: from prayer to painkillers. OUP Oxford, 2014, pp. 53-87. | Download PDF

Fassler, Joe. "How Doctors Take Women's Pain Less Seriously". The Atlantic 2015. Read here.

Lorber, Judith, and Lisa Jean Moore. Gender and the social construction of illness. Rowman Altamira, 2002. | Download PDF

Woollett, Anne and Harriette Marshall. "Discourses of pregnancy and childbirth" Material discourses of health and illness, edited by Lucy Yardley. Routledge, 1997, pp. 176-198. | Download PDF

"Stories of Misunderstanding Women's Pain". The Atlantic 2016. Read here

Hoffman, Diane E., Anita J. Tarzian. "The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain." Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, vol. 29, no. 1, 2001, pp. 13-27. |Download PDF


Ian McEwan, Saturday (2005) | Library Link

Empathy | McEwan

Video Lesson:

Secondary Readings:

Deleuze, Gilles. "Literature and life." Translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Essays critical and clinical. University of Minnesota Press, 1997, pp. 1-6. | Download PDF



Ian McEwan, Saturday (2005) | Library Link

The Medical Gaze | Saturday | Dover Beach

Film Screening:

Safe. dir. Todd Haynes (1995)

Secondary Readings:

Foucault, Michel. Introduction. The Birth of the Clinic, Routledge, 1989, pp. ix-xxii. | Download PDF
Fertel, Randy. “Saturn vs. Hermes: The Battle of the Hemispheres in Ian McEwan’s Saturday.” jml: Journal of Modern Literature 39.3 (2016): 53-71. | Download PDF
Green, Susan. “Consciousness And Ian Mcewan’s Saturday: What Henry Knows’.” English Studies: A Journal Of English Language And Literature 91.1 (2010): 58-73. | Download PDF
Hillard, G. “The Limits Of Rationalism In Ian Mcewan’s SATURDAY.” Explicator 68.2 (2010): 140-143. | Download PDF
Rogers, Janine. “The Grandeur in This View of Life: Consciousness and Literary Form in Ian McEwan’s Saturday.” Unified Fields: Science and Literary Form. Montreal; Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014. 162-83. | Download PDF
Thrailkill, Jane F. “Ian Mcewan’s Neurological Novel.” Poetics Today 32.1 (2011): 171-201. | Download PDF

Graham Swift, ‘The Hypochondriac


Secondary Readings:
Belling, Catherine. A Condition of Doubt: The Meaning of Hypochondria. Oxford University Press, 2012. | Download PDF 

Furst, Lilian R. Idioms of Distress: Psychosomatic Disorders in Medical and Imaginative Literature. State University of New York Press, 2003. | Download PDF

Cain, M. J. "Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Cognitive Science." The Philosophy of Cognitive Science, Polity Press, 2016, pp. 1-24. | Download PDF

Lewis,  Bradley. Moving Beyond Prozac, DSM, and The New Psychiatry, University of Michigan Press, 2006. | Download PDF

8 Recess Week

Sarah Manguso, The Two Kinds of Decay (2008) (Extract)
Susanne Antonetta, Body Toxic (2002) (Extract
William Styron, Darkness Visible (1991) (Extract
Christopher Hitchens, Mortality (2012) (Extract

Pathographies | Illness Narratives in Singapore

Video Lesson:

Secondary Readings:

Frank, Arthur W. The Wounded Storyteller. The University of Chicago Press, 1995. | Download PDF

Hawkins, Anne Hunsaker. "Introduction." Reconstructing Illness : Studies in Pathography. West Lafayette, Ind. : Purdue University Press, 1999, pp. 1-30 | Download PDF

Jurecic, Ann. "Illness narratives and the challenge to criticism." Illness as narrative. University of Pittsburgh Pre, 2012, pp. 1-17. | Download PDF

Bolaki, Stella. Introduction. Illness as Many Narratives, by Bolaki, Edinburgh University Press, 2016, pp. 1-25. | Download PDF


Julia Wertz, The Infinite Wait (2012) (Extract)
David Small, Stitches (2009) (Extract)
Ian Williams, The Bad Doctor (2014) (Extract)

Graphic Medicine


Graphic Medicine Website

Penn State Collection of Graphic Narratives

Atlantic: Graphic Medicine

How to design a comic book page (Nerdwriter)

Secondary Readings:

Green, Michael T., and Myers, Kimberly R. "Graphic medicine: use of comics in medical education and patient care." BMJ: British Medical Journal, Vol. 340, No. 7746, 2010, pp. 574-577 | Download PDF

Squier, Susan M. “Graphic Medicine in the University.” Hastings Center Report, vol. 45, no. 3, 2015, pp. 19-22 | Download PDF

Weaver-Hightower, Marcus B. "Losing Thomas & Ella: A Father’s Story
(A Research Comic)." Journal of Medical Humanities, vol. 38, no. 3, 2017, pp. 215–230 | Download PDF


A.S. Byatt, ‘A Stone Woman’ (2003)

Byatt | Grief | Introduction to Disability Studies

Video Lesson:
The Wounded Storyteller

Film Screening:

Dying at Grace. dir. Allan King (2003)


Secondary Readings:

Frank, Arthur W. "What's wrong with medical consumerism?" Consuming Health, edited by Saras Henderson and Alan Petersen. Routledge, 2002, pp. 13-30. | Download PDF

Halpern, Jodi. "Clinical Empathy in Medical Care." Empathy: From Bench to Bedside, edited by Jean Decety, The MIT Press, 2012, pp. 230-244. | Download PDF

Stacey, Jackie. Teratologies: A Cultural Study of Cancer. Routledge, 1997. | Download PDF

Jamison, Leslie. "The Empathy Exams." The Empathy Exams, Granta, 2014, pp. 1-26 | Download PDF


Will Self, ‘Leberknodel’ (2009)


Will Self | Euthanasia | Your Essay | Consuming Health 

Moonshot Cancer Initiative
European Association for Palliative Care
World Federation of Right to Die Societies


Euthanasia Debate: Singer v Fisher — Should voluntary euthanasia be legalised?


Secondary Readings:

Morris, David B. "Pain is Always in Your Head." The Culture of Pain University of California Press, 1991, pp. 152-173. | Download PDF

Chong, Siow Ann. Fieldnotes of a Psychiatrist. Straits Times Press, 2018 | Download PDF


Philip Roth, Nemesis

Matt Leacock, Pandemic (board game)


Pandemic | Roth | Board Games 



Games in Graphic Illness Narratives


Medical Futurist: Doctors should play board games to get better at teamwork

Medicine Matters: This is a comprehensive list of medical board games.


Training medical students

Games For Health

Virtual Reality

14 Creative Project Show-and-Tell

Please purchase: McEwan.

See here for Supplementary Readings.

Assessment: Please click here for full details of all assessments.

  1. Graphic (10%) Tuesday 22 October 
    You will design a graphic that dramatises a key concept in the medical humanities, showing how your skills as a literary scholar relate to issues of urgent concern.
  2. Concept Map (10%) Tuesday 5 November
    Each week your group will contribute to a concept map that establishes links between key theories and texts on the module.
  3. Essay (40%) Tuesday 26 November |Submit
    Your essay will defend an original thesis about two of the texts read in class and forge interdisciplinary links between literature and the history, sociology, or philosophy of medicine. Plenty of advice and support will be provided through tutorials, office hours, and constructive feedback on the formative proposal.
  4. Creative Project (40%) Tuesday 12 November | Submit
    You will be invited to reflect on the literary texts studied for the module in relation to a real-world public health issue. You can film yourself, or take stills and put them together with text on powerpoint, or make posters. You can even create an installation, or paint, or draw or use digital media, as long as you forge a connection between the arts and humanities and current debates on health and healthcare.


  1. Poster Template
  2. Example Poster
  3. Virtual Museum (previous projects)
  4. Graphic Narratives