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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…

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