The Weight of Compassion and Other Essays

By: Eoin O’Brien

Publication Date: December 2012


‘THERE ARE MANY facets to Samuel Beckett’s writing – humour, despair, love, poignancy, suffering – but for me there is one dominant characteristic, compassion, compassion for the human condition of existence.’ So begins the title essay by Eoin O’Brien, an observation that stands for the collection as it broadens out into convergent streams of essays on literature and medicine.

Part One uses on the nature of friendship and connectivity, on the role of the ‘good doctor’ and the sentient individual in society. Intimate portraits of literary Dublin in the twentieth century and earlier, Samuel Beckett, Con Leventhal, Nevill Johnson, Denis Johnston, M.che.l MacLiamm.ir and Petr Skrabanek; Corrigan, Gogarty and Korotkoff, Chekov and Handel, speak of exemplars past and values present, as the influence of the arts is inscribed on a doctor’s life and work. The Beckett essays alone yield remarkable commentary on Ireland’s greatest early modernist, and include a little-known account of the Irish Hospital at Saint-L. in Normandy, where Beckett worked as a storekeeper in a poignant drama of ‘humanity in ruins’ that informed his subsequent work.

‘The Corruption of Privilege’, addressed in Part Two, looks incisively at the practice and history of the author’s profession within Ireland and elsewhere; at medical education and the medical establishment; at medical journalism, humanitarian involvement, and at broader issues – landmines in the Third World and the plight of colleagues in Bahrain. Invaluable archival images of, among others, Samuel Beckett, Con Leventhal and Nevill Johnson (each a personal friend of the author’s), underpin the writings of this chronicler and observer of Ireland’s recent past.


EOIN O’BRIEN, a professor of medicine at both the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Dublin, is author of several highly regarded volumes: among them, The Beckett Country : Samuel Beckett’s Ireland; Conscience and Conflict: A Biography of Sir Dominic Corrigan, 1802–1880, and An Illustrated History of Medicine in Ireland. Read more about O’Brien here.


‘These essays are a pure joy; a delight to read, important, eclectic, valuable, provoking and often funny.” Michael Colgan, Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre, speaking at the launch of ‘The Weight of Compassion‘, Newman House, St Stephen’s Green, 4 December 2012

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Weight 1 kg
Dimensions 156 × 234 mm
Publication Date

December 2012