A crucial element in understanding aging includes analysing its literary artistic representation. This analysis can provide knowledge about the meaning of aging and the last years of life by informing us about what it might feel like and what cultural implications it may have that we live longer and longer lives in relatively good health, but that these lives are ‘finite’.
We focus on a large corpus of Scandinavian and Anglophone novels about ageing and the last years of life published since ca. 1990, by asking:
- How does the literature represent the characters' state of health? Is illness or health emphasised and how do they relate to one another?
- What forms of treatment are imagined in this literature (including noticeable absences of treatment)?
- What forms of well-being is imagined and are these missing in medical practice og public health thinking?
The three sets of questions will give answers that will nuance and enrich our understanding of the last years of life and contribute to research on the uses of literature in the context of literary gerontology and medical humanities – as well as inform medical practice and public health initiatives.
The Literary Patient
By examining the various ailments the aged and increasingly frail characters suffer from. We focus is on cognitive problems, problems with orientation, frustrated/new sexuality, loneliness and depression, lifestyle diseases and changes, cancer, age related disabilities especially regarding body functions, hearing, vision, mobility. But also on their resilience and how they individually treat and cope with these age-related problems with their well-being, before, during or after they may have sought professional treatment.
- How is dementia represented in these novels? What can the reader learn about the subjectively imagined experience of dementia through immersion in this fiction which grapples with the specific problems of speaking on behalf of patients increasingly unable to speak for themselves?
- What kind of thoughts, emotions and concerns do literary authors ascribe the last years of life for literary non-dementia patients? Is this image similar to the one held by the medical and care professionals?
- What kind of cultural work can we imagine the growing body of fiction about the last years of life is doing and how does it do it? What impact can it have on the social imaginary?