Chronicling medical progress: W. E. Henley, Joseph Lister, and recovery

Karen Alkalay-Gut*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While Dr. Joseph Lister was beginning to implement his practices of sterile surgery and antiseptic treatment, William Ernest Henley, the poet who would become the model for Long John Silver, was fighting to retain his remaining leg from amputation under Lister’s care, and encouraging his recovery by writing poetry. The poems he wrote both describe the practices of Lister, and are influenced by Lister’s methodology of observation, clarification, and rational conclusions. At a time when surgery was still drama practiced in a theater, and poetry was distanced from reality by romantic and post romantic conventions, this influence is extremely significant. Henley’s work, although sometimes well-known, has been largely excluded from the canon of Victorian Poetry because of the little-understood direction they took. The description and imitation of Lister’s technique, and its methodological and spiritual influence on Henley is the subject of this examination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164-180
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Poetry Therapy
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2021


  • Lister
  • Victorian poetry
  • antiseptic
  • henley
  • surgery


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