My only reason for picking this up was, of course, Joseph (here named John) 'Elephant Man' Merrick. I first became aware of him when I saw the heartbrMy only reason for picking this up was, of course, Joseph (here named John) 'Elephant Man' Merrick. I first became aware of him when I saw the heartbreaking Lynch movie, so naturally I couldn't miss a first-hand account from the doctor who took care of him. I didn't expect, however, the writing to be so vivid and engaging. I was fully prepared for dry-ish essays which would perhaps include a lot of medical details, but instead they are almost in a form of a short story.
There are twelve essays altogether. Treves mostly recounts his experiences with different patients and occasionally starts musing about varied things. Like with most collections, not all of the writings managed to keep me interested, but the overall quality was great.
The Receiving Room describes the age in the mid-19th century before ambulance service. The image is powerful: people who accompany the wounded move like a wave towards the London Hospital and have to be stopped by the porter, two drunken and brawling women covered in blood, one efficient nurse who can handle all kinds of things also likes swigs of gin now and then but is always extremely professional. The unhygienic conditions and the prevalence of sepsis make you grateful of the efforts of the 21st century.
A Cure for Nerves is the story of a woman in her own words, a woman whose situation was much too common back in the day. She is a neurotic woman. Her husband is unsympathetic. He claims her ailments are imaginary and that the illness is a grievance to himself. He's sick of her moanings, and that she's perfectly fine because he is fine (what a load of horseshit logic). All she has to do is pull herself together! He also humiliates her in front of their friends, so he's just an all-round perfect spouse. When she visits a doctor and later remembers the letter that he wrote to recommend her as a patient to another, she finds that in the letter the doctor completely undermines her. The beginning is incredibly depressing but eventually the woman is forced to face her fears and miraculously gets better. Not sure how I feel about that, but an interesting piece nevertheless.
Two Women continues with the sombre mood when Treves examines the traits of her female patients. One of them is a suburban woman who keeps her breast cancer a secret as long as she can to save her husband from grief. The other one is a Whitechapel woman, whose drunk husband beats her (but not much, because then she obviously wouldn't be able to earn a living and support her family). The husband ends up torching his wife during a heated argument, and just before she dies she claims it was an accident.
Now that I'm writing my review a couple of days after finishing the collection, I realize that there's a lot of sadness running through it. There is hope too, like when a patient recovers and personally comes to thank Treves for saving his life, but the melancholy that comes from death, injuries, and broken hearts can't be ignored.
A few times Treves goes into another direction entirely. For example, in one essay he describes a nightmare he once had in India (which reads like a proper horror story), and in another one he discusses the topic of afterlife and apparitions, and makes notes of astronomer Camille Flammarion's article "At the Moment of Death". It appears that Treves didn't believe in the supernatural, but instead leans towards thinking that apparitions don't appear to people that are healthy mentally and physically. He does admit, though, that a negative experience (not seeing anything that would confirm Flammarion's claims) is not an argument. He just simply hasn't seen anything yet.
Despite liking the other essays as well, the one I will remember forever is obviously The Elephant Man. Treves's attitude felt off-putting at first, since he doesn't shy away from constantly poking at Merrick's deformities, calling him "the most disgusting specimen of humanity" he had ever seen and "a perverted object". It's understandable that someone like Merrick might provoke a reaction of some kind from others, but it was uncomfortable to read it from Treves. The tone did change later, when Treves realized Merrick was actually a lot smarter than he seemed.
Never in all his life had Merrick anyone to talk to, but he longed for conversations. He also became an avid reader and ended up loving romances the most (he understood the type of Treves's house in the context of Jane Austen'sEmma). The one thing everyone should know about Joseph Merrick, though, is his child-like adoration of things that were taken for granted by others. He went into the theatre and treated everything he saw as something that belonged to the real world, and enjoyed everything he did very deeply. He burst into tears when he met the first woman who had ever smiled to him and shaken his hand.
There is undoubtedly embellishment in all of Treves's essays, and in The Elephant Man he makes it seem like Merrick was a prison of sorts in the Mile End shop, when in fact Merrick himself proposed the owner that he should be exhibited. Still, the core of the story is inspiring. Merrick was taken care of for the rest of his life (thanks to an abundance of donations from the public) and he learned to function in the society. It's unclear what people really thought about him (whether he was still considered an oddity or even a pet), but he seemed to enjoy himself.
His last wish was to see the countryside. The image of him sitting on a field in the sun and gathering violets... That will always be how I'll remember him.
"It would be reasonable to surmise that he would become a spiteful and malignant misanthrope, swollen with venom and filled with hatred of his fellow-men, or, on the other hand, that he would degenerate into a despairing melancholic on the verge of idiocy. Merrick, however, was no such being. He had passed through the fire and had come out unscathed. His troubles had ennobled him. He showed himself to be a gentle, affectionate and lovable creature, as amiable as a happy woman, free from any trace of cynicism or resentment, without a grievance and without an unkind word for anyone. I have never heard him complain. I have never heard him deplore his ruined life or resent the treatment he had received at the hands of callous keepers."...more
Jotkut esseet menivät reippaasti yli hilseen, ja jotkut olivat aihepiiriltään mielenkiintoisia, kuten Intian boheemi elämäntapasiirtolaisuus. En koe oJotkut esseet menivät reippaasti yli hilseen, ja jotkut olivat aihepiiriltään mielenkiintoisia, kuten Intian boheemi elämäntapasiirtolaisuus. En koe olevani pätevä arvioimaan kokoelman onnistumista, joten pisteytys on vain viitteellinen. Pakkopullamaista kurssilukemistoahan tämä enimmäkseen oli, mutta kokonaisuudessaan silti ihan ok....more
A short and brilliant satirical essay, where Swift cuts into Ireland's financial situation and the treatment of poor by suggesting that babies shouldA short and brilliant satirical essay, where Swift cuts into Ireland's financial situation and the treatment of poor by suggesting that babies should be the main source of food. As a side product you could get gloves for the ladies and boots for the gentlemen. So, by shocking the readers Swift had good chances to be heard. There's no such thing as bad publicity, right?
Swift argues that by doing this the population of Ireland would be reduced (especially Papists), the poor could get more assets when the babies are sold to the rich, and mothers would take better care of their babies when they'd be a source of income. The richer population is the best target for this delicacy, because those bastards have already sucked the parents dry so they would probably appreciate meat even more tender. Although, because babies are so tender, they are not suitable for exporting, because they wouldn't be preserved in salt for a very long time. Then again, there is a country (England) that would probably enjoy Irish meat even without salt.