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In sickness and in hope

We have always told tales about suffering and healing, yet our ideas of "medical narrative"—the kind of stories we tell about illness and treatment, and the stories our society constructs around medicine—are young and evolving. Here, Michael Blastland, Francesca Happé and Neil Vickers discuss the roles of narrative in illness, care and autism.

By Michael Blastland   September 2007

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Neil Vickers: It’s a striking fact that before the late 1950s there were very few “illness narratives,” and those that did come to public notice were produced almost entirely in the US. Until the mid-1970s, illness narrative was really just a first cousin of the self-help book; about the nuts and bolts of being ill, not about the effects on your life. What I think began to transform the genre was that by the late 1980s there were a number of celebrity illness narratives that changed the rules significantly—like William Styron’s…

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