Latest Issue

Beyond the kingdom of the sick: What literature teaches us about illness

Virginia Woolf, Hilary Mantel, and Susan Sontag have often described illness as a landscape of sorts—but new writers point to a different way of approaching disease that seems more fitting to our time

By Rosalind Jana  

Illness has often been described as a landscape of sorts. In Virginia Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill” she writes of “undiscovered countries” and the terrible “wastes and deserts of the soul” brought to light by “a slight attack of influenza.” Charles Lamb’s “The Convalescent” and William Hazlitt’s “The Sick-Chamber” respectively (and gloomily) deem illness “a prison” and a dull place where “the folding-doors of…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect