Empathy and Stress Illness (2)

A great work of fiction is not only a pleasure but also can expand the breadth and depth of your empathic skill.  In the last post I wrote about a non-fiction book and a film.  Today I want to look at a novel and in the next post a collection of short stories.

I read Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen, 1813) many years ago and it still surprises me that I think of it first when asked about empathy in fiction.  This is not because the trials of oppressed 19th century English women (forced to seek a good marriage to secure their futures) are of particular relevance to my practice.  What stands out is the exquisite description of every emotional nuance as Elizabeth Bennet’s attitude toward Mr Darcy evolves from negative to positive.  The reader understands exactly how and why Elizabeth feels as she does.  Austen’s detail and precision serve as a model I can aim for in my medical chart notes and in my stories about patients.  The book also has humor, drama and an entertaining cast of characters, making it no surprise that it has sold over 20 million copies and been made into at least nine movies or TV series.

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