Reply
Thread Tools Display Modes
#1
Old 12-22-2003, 09:15 AM
Guest
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Orlando(ish)
Posts: 21,294
Illnesses and diseases in literature (Maybe spoilers)

Every once in awhile I will come across a passage in a book that describes an illness or disease. Sometimes these books don't come out and name the disease.

For instance, in Little Women, Beth dies of a long illness. For awhile I thought she had cancer, but then I thought she died of heart failure after her bout with scarlet fever. Thoughts?

In Fortune's Favorites by Colleen McCullough, Sulla suffers from what is quite obviously diabetes (sudden weight gain, unquenchable thirst, desire for sweets) but he also suffers a skin condition on his face characterized by cyclical itching. It is said he was very fair-skinned, almost but not quite albino, and got a very bad sunburn on his face. During a spa treatment his face broke down, and it was only after using components from sheep (lanolin?) that his condition was cured, although the scars remained.

What could that have been? Have there been other illnesses or diseases described in books that you have wondered about?
#2
Old 12-22-2003, 09:25 AM
Charter Member
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Milky Way Galaxy
Posts: 35,163
I always wondered what brain fever was.

Roger Ebert describes an illness known as "Ali McGraw's Disease". It is what her character died of in Love Story, where the patient becomes more noble and beautiful as the disease advances, until they die of sheer wonderfulness.

Regards,
Shodan
#3
Old 12-22-2003, 09:49 AM
Guest
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Location: Location
Posts: 5,538
Don't forget "Sudden Plot Advancement Syndrome", which is where a character dies for no discernable reason except to advance the plot.
#4
Old 12-22-2003, 09:49 AM
Guest
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Orlando(ish)
Posts: 21,294
Is brain fever a stroke?
#5
Old 12-22-2003, 09:50 AM
Guest
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Orlando(ish)
Posts: 21,294
Okay, guys, I really am serious here. Sometimes you have to guess the disease or illness from the symptoms, and depending on the era the book was set, they may not have known what was wrong.
#6
Old 12-22-2003, 10:02 AM
Guest
Join Date: Feb 2000
Posts: 7,313
Strokes were generally called "apoplexy." "Brain fever" sounds like encephalitis.

Consumption (tuberculosis) is often a killer in older works - wasting away, pale, coughing up a little blood, then, like Mimi, just passing away. It makes for a nice, quiet death during which lots of insightfull, meaningful things can be said between lovers.
#7
Old 12-22-2003, 10:33 AM
Guest
Join Date: Nov 2001
Location: SE PA
Posts: 730
Brain fever is most likely either encephalitis or meningitis. Both of them are very serious illnesses that require immediate and often intensive care. There is also a risk of permanent neurological damage, which may be why characters in novels who've had brain fever seem to be 'not quite right' or have a very lengthy convalesence.

My own theory is that Beth from Little Women died of heart failure because of the scarlet fever clue. This can develop into rheumatic fever if left untreated, (and there wasn't much one could do about it until fairly recently) and this often causes scarring of the heart. My grandmother had rheumatic fever as a child in the 1910's and had heart problems directly related to this childhood illness all her life, requiring open heart surgery twice. It eventually killed her, and she died of- you guessed it- heart failure. I'm way too lazy to dig out my copy, but if you like you can see if there's any description of Beth's symptoms that might match heart failure, like difficulty breathing, blue lips and cold limbs from poor circulation, weak and rapid pulse, swelling of the limbs, and a general progressive weakness. People suffering from heart failure often have to sleep propped up because of fluid build-up in the lungs.

IIRC, I believe some people with certain types of diabetes can experience skin problems, although don't take my word for it.

Tuberculosis (consumption) was a major killer, especially in industrial areas, during the 19th century. It was oddly romanticized for some reason, and sufferers were described as beautiful and luminous, when in fact they were extremely pale, lost almost all body fat, often sweating, struggling for breath, and coughing up blood as their lungs more or less disintegrated. In old medical journals, TB symptoms at autopsy are extremely unpleasant, as the lung tissue is covered with hard nodules and adhesions.

Other diseases that crop up in novels tend to be childhood illnesses that devastated populations in pre-vaccination and pre-antibiotic eras. Rickets, or deformity of the long bones due to poor nutrition and inadequate sunlight is often mentioned, though it rarely killed in itself. Polio turns up later, and other contagious diseases which were former killers such as measles, mumps, whooping cough, and diptheria.

Cholera turns up in novels of the mid to late 19th century, or novels set in India. Earlier novels often feature various fevers, usually unspecified since they could not be diagnosed, and for infants 'failure to thrive' was common, in which a baby or young child simply seems to waste away for no clear reason.

Even earlier novels, particularly of the 18th century, feature true epidemic killers like smallpox and typhus, which had names like gaol fever and shipboard fever. Women often died of peurperal fever, or purples, after childbirth.

Even earlier you get into things like plague and leprosy.

You also read about people 'having fits' or 'taking fits'- this could be epilepsy, or symptoms of something like meningitis, which can cause convulsions, as can very high fevers.
#8
Old 12-22-2003, 10:49 AM
Member
Join Date: May 2001
Location: Sydney, Australia
Posts: 17,683
A good read that amongst other things covers Victorian causes of death is What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England by Daniel Pool.
#9
Old 12-22-2003, 11:04 AM
Guest
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Orlando(ish)
Posts: 21,294
From what I remember of Little Women, Beth just got weaker and weaker...eventually so she had to put away her knitting because the needles were "too heavy." Going to the seashore seemed to help her, though, for a while.
#10
Old 12-22-2003, 03:45 PM
Guest
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: Chicago
Posts: 144
Just from memory, I thought Beth died from consumption. But really I have no reason to believe that, as it has been many years since I have read Little Women.
#11
Old 12-22-2003, 04:07 PM
Guest
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Almost Silicon Valley
Posts: 8,871
I've read a biography or two about Louisa May Alcott. Her parents, and especially her father, were into experimental social living arrangements, sort of an early version of communes. So were the family's friends, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Mr. Alcott was also a vegetarian, and during the communal living period of their lives, imposed a very spartan vegetarian diet on his family. At the same time, Mrs. Alcott, who was addicted to charity and helping very poor and sick people, was the one who brought home scarlet fever to the daughter who was the model for Beth. The Alcotts' doctor told them that Beth might have recovered from scarlet fever more thoroughly had she been given a better diet than than apples and cold water in the time preceding her illness. And yes, it was eventually heart failure, caused by the scarlet fever, that killed her.
#12
Old 12-22-2003, 10:01 PM
MLS MLS is offline
Charter Member
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: New Jersey
Posts: 7,841
I have always wondered what the Dickens (pun intended) Tiny Tim had that was potentially fatal, caused lameness, and could be cured by the medicines of the time. Anybody have any idea?
#13
Old 12-23-2003, 06:43 AM
Member
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Rockville, MD
Posts: 2,798
Quote:
Originally posted by MLS
I have always wondered what the Dickens (pun intended) Tiny Tim had that was potentially fatal, caused lameness, and could be cured by the medicines of the time. Anybody have any idea?
I remember reading an article on this years ago. Someone had diagnosed Tiny Tim's condition and, if I recall, came to the conclusion that it was some sort of kidney problem.
#14
Old 12-23-2003, 06:46 AM
Member
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Rockville, MD
Posts: 2,798
It only took a second to find:

Renal Tubular Acidosis

See the 3rd paragraph.
#15
Old 12-23-2003, 08:00 AM
Member
Join Date: Mar 2001
Posts: 11,049
MMD
http://omenaheights.com/love_story_page.htm
#16
Old 12-23-2003, 03:20 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Milky Way Galaxy
Posts: 35,163
What a wonderful, spot-on review, Blake.

Regards,
Shodan
#17
Old 12-23-2003, 05:47 PM
Guest
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Shejidan
Posts: 941
Quote:
Originally posted by ratty
Brain fever is most likely either encephalitis or meningitis. Both of them are very serious illnesses that require immediate and often intensive care. There is also a risk of permanent neurological damage, which may be why characters in novels who've had brain fever seem to be 'not quite right' or have a very lengthy convalesence.

Your description matches what I've read of "brain fever" but it's always intrigued me that brain fever, at least in the stories that I've read, almost always seems to be associated with some terrible emotional stress. It doesn't seem to strike randomly, as you'd expect. Of course, that's probably a matter of my limited reading. I'm not arguing your identification, just bemused by the whole "traumatic revelations cause meningitis" thing.
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 07:51 AM.

Copyright © 2017
Best Topics: mr monopoly coin purse slang jackie swanson naked 1987 virago retroactive cobra spoon tick bacon grease disposal invisable chair wv toll freecell winning percentage brake rotors rust good landscaping names frog japanese possum hollow woods invisable chair easy nes games water for irons counter melody example moonraker sail zsalynn gareth zip line gun strippper names jong zipless coinmach refund koogle peanutbutter invert syrup imdb caddyshack titrating dose pickle incident james marsters nude polishing varnished wood ma petit amie eye cultures plain pasta mixing brands of motor oil car won t go into park how many rolls of toilet paper per person per week bird flies into window meaning honeywell thermostat circulation mode leprosy all my skin is falling off of me lyrics cant fall asleep on back do mice eat cockroaches chicken of the sea crab meat review bacon number john lennon should i get a radon test amazon sent me someone else's package purpose of bread box adshare mg for a third party heaven and hell lyrics meaning what color is puss cost of titanium per gram yosemite sam back off mud flaps upside down question mark cross best rum for daiquiris vibrating noise in wall how long does an unopened growler last does space have mass does steering wheel lock work when does the fedex truck come to my house it was red and yellow and green and brown goofy's son max and his girlfriend why are black people so loud no clump cat litter how to start a deli do piranhas eat each other vincent gray sixth sense how much does the average house weigh