BMJ Published 20 June 1998 Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1913
We are none of us saints, and a veneer of sophistication and restraint is all that lies between us and the unbridled satiation of our most venal appetites and our most primitive drives; to eat, to survive, to have sex, to reproduce, to ensure the perpetuation of our own genes. Fighting, drinking, gambling, wanton pillage; morality is ephemeral and in another cultural milieu these activities might be looked on with undiluted admiration. Being nice to each other is just a current fad, and under the skin we are red in tooth and claw and other more sensitive body parts.
One of the great and unabashedly atavistic male pleasures is wiping another guy’s eye — that is, taking his girl — preferably in public; telling your mates about it later, though an exquisite joy in its own right, is but the icing on the cake. Admit it lads; doesn’t it feel good? It’s a way of staking out our ground, showing how tough we are.
And Dr Fitzpiers, the country GP from Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders, may therefore have been an unwitting role model for many of us, and perhaps a subliminal reason for us becoming doctors in the first place. Poor old horny-handed redneck Giles Winterbourne is in love with college-educated-beyond-her-station Grace Melbury, his employer’s daughter, in what seems a most congenial arrangement. She seems fond of him also, though in a patronising puppy-dog kind of way, until Fitzpiers rides into town, a combination of cynicism and arrogance that she finds both repellent and irresistible. As the saying goes: good girls, bad boys, even badder docs, though nowadays Fitzpiers would be struck off quicker than you can say Jude the Obscure.
The Woodlanders is now a film, and while part of me accepts it is a good thing that such a masterpiece be made accessible to the heaving throng, another more jealous part feels regret that the subtle nuances of Hardy’s novel will now be pawed over by complete strangers and reduced to the level of a banal love story. And what’s love got to do with it, Fitzpiers might have said as he rushed off to a triste with the lady of the manor, having just enjoyed Suke Damson’s more pastoral and toothy charms.
And we have other tendencies that might be frowned on, but are integral parts of our drive to achieve and prosper. When I was a poor doctor I hated rich doctors. I hated their nice suits and their silk ties and their big shiny cars and their complacency and their arrogance and their tennis clubs and the way they didn’t sweat much, but most of all I hated that I wasn’t one of ’em.
And when I became a rich doc — rich relative to my previous poverty, I mean — I turned right around and started hating poor docs, hating their grubby suits, their beat up old cars, and especially their idealism and enthusiasm. Greed and begrudgery, what would we do without them?
It’s the classic Irish success story.