Happily my own bouts with illness have been little worse than flu and strained back.
Wood, meet knuckles *knock knock*.
I wish illness upon no one. If it has, however, been some sort of fuel for these writers, at least they did something with it.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Medical Problems of 4 Great Writers
By John J. Ross
John J. Ross's Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough: The Medical Lives of Great Writers is everything you need to know about the afflictions of history's greatest writers. Ross (a doctor and writer) outlines a few of the maladies of the authors we love.
Oddly enough, Shakespeare’s Tremor and Orwell’s Cough is the by-product of a syphilis outbreak in Boston in 2000. Syphilis, which infected half a million Americans in 1945, had become rare in the United States. Many doctors had never seen a case. At the hospital where I then worked as an infectious diseases specialist, several patients with secondary syphilis went undiagnosed when seen by their primary care doctors. I put together a PowerPoint talk on syphilis for medical grand rounds, and thought to tart it up with a few Shakespeare quotes, having a vague recollection from my days as an English undergraduate that the Bard was fond of joking about the great pox. I dusted off my battered copy of theRiverside Shakespeare and started leafing through it. Holy crap, I thought, there is a lot of stuff here on syphilis. My curiosity was piqued, and I dug some more. Was there a connection between Shakespeare’s venereal obsession, contemporary gossip about his sexual misadventures, the appalling Elizabethan mercury cure for the pox, and the Bard’s tremulous handwriting in late middle age?
In Shakespeare’s Tremor and Orwell’s Cough, I tackle twelve writers and their real-life medical mysteries, blending biography, literature, and grisly medical history. Here are a few:
1. The Brontës—The deaths of Charlotte and Emily Brontë have inspired a great deal of pernicious biographical claptrap. Charlotte died to resolve her repressed sexual desire for her father; Charlotte committed suicide by starvation in response to being intellectually smothered by the Victorian patriarchy; Emily and Charlotte had anorexia; Charlotte died in pregnancy from hysterical rejection of the fetus; Charlotte’s dullard husband was actually a fiendish serial killer who offed the whole lot. In reality, all six of the Brontë siblings died of tuberculosis, a Victorian plague that killed off 1% of the English population per year. TB is a chronic, lingering infection that spreads rapidly in confined spaces, especially among the malnourished and demoralized. It entered the Brontë household after the older girls, Maria and Elizabeth, were infected at the Clergy Daughter’s School. This was the place made infamous by Charlotte as the brutal Lowood School in Jane Eyre, where the girls were beaten, starved, and terrorized by tales of hellfire and damnation. Although the suffering, consumptive artist is a tired cliché, there may be some truth in it, as the immune system is weakened by emotional turmoil, of which the Brontës had plenty. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne had depressive episodes; brother Branwell had bipolar disorder and dipsomania; Emily, brainy and odd, probably also had Asperger syndrome and social anxiety disorder.