Wit by Margaret Edson

The Summer Lovin’ Challenge is all about rereading favorites, so can you blame me for squeezing in a short reread this week? After I made my list, I couldn’t resist. I love rereading my favorite books!

Wit by Margaret Edson is a quick read (I think I read it in about an hour over the course of a day), but is poignant because of its emotional subject matter. Despite its brevity, it is packed full of various implications. I’m sure I miss most of the subtle meanings when I read it, so I enjoy rereading it. I get more out of it each time.

The play centers on Vivian Bearing’s last days in the hospital as she dies of ovarian cancer, with flashbacks to key moments in her life and career. Dr. Bearing is a professor of seventeenth century poetry, specifically of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets, and throughout the play, Bearing’s fears echo John Donne’s lines. Her impersonal medical care likewise parallels her own insensitive method of teaching students.

This play never fails to bring me to tears as I read it (or watch it), and I’m not certain why I like such intense emotion. I like the connections to words and how words can comfort and provide an imagined escape. I love the childhood books that are mentioned and the parallel between those books and the emotions that Dr. Bearing faces as her life comes full circle. I like the reminder that as people we need to recognize each other as such. This play had lonely people in it, and it made me want to make sure that others aren’t feeling lonely, whatever their stage in life.

The title, Wit, comes from the type of poetry that John Donne wrote, metaphysical poetry. The Wikipedia entry for “wit” says that “wit can be a thin disguise for more poignant feelings that are being versified” and cites John Donne as a great example of this. I certainly am not an expert at such things, so I can’t really discuss it. But reading Edson’s play is inspiring to me because I realize I have so much to learn. I love the way it makes me think. And now I want to go read John Donne’s poetry in depth.

And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die. (John Donne, Sonnet X)

Margaret Edson wrote Wit in 1995, when she was an elementary school teacher volunteering at a hospital cancer ward. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1999.

I also rewatched the movie this week, which stars Emma Thompson. While it is certainly an adaptation of the play, it is very well done. I’ve never seen the play live, although I’d like too. It should be noted that the play itself has brief nudity at the end, which may be a bit surprising if one is not expecting it.

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed Wit on your site, please leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Do you like to read emotional books?

Are any of your favorite books “tear jerkers”?

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. “This play never fails to bring me to tears as I read it (or watch it), and I’m not certain why I like such intense emotion.”

    I think there are some things that just affect us that way. I cry every time I watch The Hours, and I’ve seen it over 100 times. For awhile there I would watch it every day. Jason used to wonder why, but it just made sense to me, without having to reason it out.

  2. I think I’m going to love this challenge just to find out what books my favourite bloggers love. 😀 Now I want to go read this one!

  3. Amanda, that’s exactly it! I’m glad I’m not the only one. My husband doesn’t get emotional during movies, let alone books, so he thought it weird too.

    Eva, I hope you enjoy it! I like to see what other’s favorites are too. I saw that you reread To Kill a Mockingbird. I reread that less than a year ago, so I held off this summer. Maybe in a few more months!!

  4. “Are any of your favorite books “tear jerkers”?

    As a medical doctor I unfortunately have seen over 1,000 deaths first hand. Some went quietly into that good night; some fought against the dying of the light.”

    My career is a tear-jerker. For some MDs, death never elicits sadness, failure maybe, but not sadness. Sometimes I wish I had gotten my PhD in English Lit or history….but most of the time, I am ecstatic to help people with life!

  5. Of interest, “Wit” is the second book in my tower of library books to read (right after an autobiography of a good friend.)

  6. Helen, I hope you enjoy Wit. It sounds like it will be pretty close to home! It really address the “MDs seeing death as failure” aspect too. Actually, it doesn’t give a very nice picture of doctors overall.

  7. Wit is one of my favorite plays to read. I just asked a fellow blogger to read. John Donne is definitely the ideal person behind wit. I had to read a lot of his poetry last year. If you ever read him, I hope you enjoy it.

    Have you read any other Pulitzer Prize-winning plays?

  8. Vasilly, I certainly do enjoy this play! I’ve requested a book of Donne’s poetry from the library. I’m not sure I understand wit, but I’m hoping to learn something….

    I had to go check out the list of Pulitzer Prize winners to know how to answer your question! No I haven’t read many. But I’m trying to give the “Ignored genres” more of a chance this year — Poetry and Drama, that is. I feel like I just default to novels, so I need to make an effort for the others.

    I have read Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill for school. But I haven’t read any of the others on my own….Kind of sad.

  9. It is not sad! With all the reading you’re doing, I’m sure you’ll catch up. I read the more recent winners like Steel Magnolias, Driving Miss Daisy, and a few more. Such powerful plays.

  10. christina, yeah, that’s me, too!

    Vasilly, I’ve seen the movies of those. I know it doesn’t count, but at least I know the stories….

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