Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 275–283 | Cite as

Fragments of illness: The Death of a Beekeeper as a literary case study of cancer

  • Hilde BondevikEmail author
  • Knut Stene-Johansen
  • Rolf Ahlzén
Scientific Contribution


The first decisive steps of medicine towards becoming a science in its present shape happen to coincide with “the rise of the novel” in the eighteenth century. Before this well known and in our days still growing scientific specialization of medicine, the connections between literature and medicine were both many and close. By reading and analyzing a contemporary novel, The Death of a Beekeeper by the Swedish author Lars Gustafsson (1978), this article is an attempt to explore to which extent a fictional narrative about a unique case of cancer may illuminate challenges associated with the experience of serious illness. Our claim is that medicine might draw wisdom from literature, its ability to create connections through narrative, to illuminate the complexity of ethical dilemmas, and to intertwine symptoms, life stories, and contexts. We argue that by being in the company of literary narratives and philosophical questions, physicians as well as other health care professionals may acquire clinically relevant skills which help them reach the ethically defined goals of their profession.


Cancer Illness experience Literature Medicine Phenomenology 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Health and Society, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages, Faculty of HumanitiesUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  3. 3.Psychiatric Open Care UnitUniversity Hospital of ÖrebroKarlstadSweden

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