Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Consumptive Sublime

I am so sick in the head sometimes.

In the 19th Century, pulmonary tuberculosis became a fashionable disease of beautiful young women and poets (obviously, the later absolutely could not be anything less than underweight, as one must suffer for one's art then and now. I can't take fat artists seriously). The afflicted lost incredible amounts of weight, looked frail and delicate, and right before dying, TB was thought to bless them with the "Hope of the Consumptive" with bursts of energy, beauty, and creativity. It was the disease that every good Christian longed to die from, a wish that was granted to many as 1 in 4 people in England and America would become sick (if a member of the household became sick, it was a death sentence for the entire family).

Despite the terrible symptoms and afflictions associated with pulmonary tuberculosis, Victorians generated an idealized mythology of the disease and these doll-like girls became the "consumptive sublime."

(it's also a disease frequently associated with vampirism but that's totally off-subject)


I was reading about "Villette," a book by Charlotte Bronte that I'd like to add to my summer reading list, and I started thinking about her untimely death from tuberculosis. Suddenly my thoughts started drifting to how sickly thin and lovely her death would have been (full romanticism on my part). This wasn't the first time I started thinking about TB. Last week I was sitting in our uni health clinic and there was a poster listing tuberculosis symptoms. I started thinking, "Well, if I had to pick an infectious disease, that'd be it."

Um, go google "Pott's Disease" and you'll see why you do not want to be messing around with the TB monster, my friends.

I don't know if it's the drive for thinness at any cost, or the fascination with anything and everything NOT in this century, or my morbid curiosity to die in a terrible fashion, or perhaps the romance of La bohème.

Abandoned Tuberculosis Hospital

When all is said and done, don't try and contract TB. It's not worth it. I should do some Public Service Announcements. If you must contract a disease, mononucleosis is the way to go... people will make fun of you, ask you who you've been kissing, and perhaps if you're like me, you'll be left with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. But the pounds will melt off. In any case, don't mess with diseases or fire. They'll burn you.

P.S. TB is not funny, as 1/3 of the world is currently infected. The Victorians, however, are incredibly funny.


Anonymous said...

haha everyone is vaccinated for tb it will be hard to catch anyway.

Maria said...

Thanks for an interesting post! Just what I needed, bizarre enough. Ha ha.

Love, Maria

LoveMeDead said...

thanks for giving me something worth reading. it was pretty amazing. it would be cool to look all thin and frail. hmmm....

Anonymous said...

the above said that its hard to catch tb when you have the vaccine, in the uk the vaccine has now been stopped unless they feel your at a high risk of catching it or you request it. Both my mother and daughter almost died of TB.. and its definatly nothing to play with. we all went through hell and back when they were sick!

Savory Sweet said...

@2nd anonymous comment

I'm sorry to hear about your family. As I said, my post wasn't directed at the disease but the idiocies of the romanticization of the illness which began in the 19th century and still continues today (with films like Moulin Rouge popularizing the notion).

Thank you for providing us with the information about the vaccine as I was not aware that it was no longer regularly given in the UK. I hope you will keep reading, and if you would like to speak to me about any harm I have caused please email me as I do care about all my readers!

RayRay said...

You aren't sick in the head, I used to be "jealous" (in a way) of Beth from Little Women, who was so thin and fragile. Ok maybe I should re-phrase: if you're sick in the head, then I am too! Haha.

nadja said...

i absolutely love your way of writing, and the things you write about.

PrettyWreck said...

I think I'm in love with you.
I just cracked up.

If I had to pick a disease to die would meningitis. Dead in 24 hours. Quick, sleepy, and sometimes you get to punch people.

Tulip said...

Hmm I have had issues with this before, you know what my 'problems' are savory. People with the same sort of problems as me become very thin. However I'm not. Its something thats never added up in my head so I thought maybe if I was thinner I'd be taken more seriously, can't say it's had any affect yet but I'm not there yet so...

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