A Fortunate Man Essay - Critical Context

John Berger

Critical Context

Famed as an art critic, screenwriter, and novelist, John Berger departs from traditional literary forms with A Fortunate Man. The coupling of a free-floating essay with uncaptioned photographs, which provide their own silent commentary on the essay’s subject, emphasizes Berger’s view, presented in Ways of Seeing (1972), that images precede words and that words, in turn, are necessary for thought. The essay style employed by Berger in both books permits him to delve into cultural criticism and use anthropological, psychological, sociological, economic, political, and aesthetic approaches to a single subject. This freedom allows Berger himself to act as the universal man and, in fact, he seems equally comfortable discussing the tribal antecedents of doctors, the nature of time, and the social retardation of an English village.

Such eclecticism has troubled several reviewers of A Fortunate Man. Some are disappointed not to know more about Sassall; some find Berger’s method abstruse, his argument hard to follow. These readers were expecting, one supposes, only the story of a country doctor—a genre that has produced a number of entries, most idealized and sentimental. This is not the kind of book Berger has written, however, and A Fortunate Man can be difficult if one mistakes the subject of the essay. While Berger uses medicine and John Sassall in particular as the background for his book, he is writing in reality...

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