My guest today is Lauren Gilbert, a member of The Jane Austen Society of North America and the author of Heyerwood, a Regency Novel. Read her post about Flu Season at Jane Austen's Time, and welcome her at My Jane Austen Book Club! If you live in the US or Canada, you can enter a giveaway contest to win the hardback cover book of Heyerwood. To be entered you have to leave your comment or a question for Lauren and add your e-mail address.
Here we are in the depths of winter. We all know someone who has it, has recovered from it, or is trying hard not to get it. What might “it” be? That miserable cold, the awful flu, whatever it is that is going around. Interestingly enough, it was all going around in Jane Austen’s time, too. However, the seriousness of the winter ailments and their effects in the late 18th and early 19th century is frequently forgotten or overlooked today.
In the early part of the 19th century, medicine had improved dramatically. Superstition was waning-people no longer believed that the ruler’s touch could heal a form of tubercular infection called scrofula (or “King’s Evil”). Bathing was becoming more common. Vaccination with the cowpox vaccine was making inroads on that dreaded scourge, smallpox. However, bleeding, laudanum and bathing in or drinking spa waters were still standby treatments for many illnesses.
|Mrs Bennet always complains for her poor nerves and health - Pride & Prejudice 1995|
Two of the winter ailments in Jane Austen’s time were the “epidemic cold” and the “putrid sore throat.” The epidemic cold appears to be basically the same as it is today; a virus resulting in sneezing, sore throat, coughing, slight fever, and so forth. It would appear that the standard treatment was staying in, keeping warm, and getting plenty of rest, as it is today. (It must be noted that the stricture to get plenty of rest would have been reinforced with a few drops of laudanum, if necessary, in Jane’s day!)
|Jane Bennet is sick in bed and Elizabeth, her sister, takes care of her (Pride and Prejudice, 2005)|
The second ailment, the “putrid sore throat,” was much more serious, indeed life threatening. This term appears to cover a variety of ailments, all manifesting in the throat. At its most basic, a putrid sore throat seems to be a sore throat complicated by serious infection resulting in any or all of these: accumulation of pus, ulceration and sloughing of soft tissue at the back of the throat, and even gangrene. In trying to identify this illness with modern diseases, it has been linked to tonsillitis, diphtheria, bronchitis, and even a form of streptococcal throat infection, as well as scarlatina or scarlet fever, and possibly measles. Obviously, this would be a very painful condition. Scarlet fever, measles, diphtheria, and strep are also quite contagious. It is also worth noting that all of these conditions frequently resulted in death or disability, such as damage to the heart. While most are considered childhood diseases, adults can also contract these illnesses. Lacking knowledge of germs, bacteria and other microorganisms, as well as the issues of sepsis, these conditions could sweep through a household (or a neighborhood), creating havoc if not outright death.
Diphtheria produces fever and weakness, and causes the formation of a thick gray membrane in the throat, causing difficulty breathing and swallowing. Scarlet fever and scarlatina result from infection with type A strep bacteria, and are characterized by a fever, sore throat, and a bright red rash; there is also flushing from high fever. Tonsillitis is the inflammation of tonsils resulting from infection by a virus or bacteria, with symptoms including fever and sore throat; if the result of a bacterial infection, this can be contagious. Measles also manifest with fever, sore throat, a rash.
|Colonel Brandon rescues Marianne - She will lie in bed sick for days (Sense & Sensibility 1995)|
The similarities of the symptoms of these diseases, as well as the fact that they were all common in Jane’s time, make the question of pinning down an exact definition of what disease constituted a putrid sore throat very difficult. The real issue is the lack of modern medical treatment, some of which evolved later in the 19th century, made treatment very difficult, infection hard to contain, and recovery as much a matter of luck and a good constitution as anything else. The discovery of how disease spreads, improved vaccination for more diseases, and antibiotics have drastically reduced, if not eliminated, these conditions today, and the resulting damage that these conditions can cause, which include heart damage, blindness, deafness, and even brain damage from an uncontrolled high fever. Thanks to modern medicine, our concept of “flu season” is much more an uncomfortable inconvenience; in Jane Austen’s time, it was truly a major threat.
“18th Century Medicine.” Life in the 18th Century. http://www.local histories.org/18thcent.html (viewed 12/29/2011)
19th Century Diseases. http://logicmgmt.com/1876/overview/medicine/diseases.htm (viewed 12/29/2011)
Bader, Ted, “Mr. Woodhouse is not a Hypochondriac!” PERSUASIONS On-Line, V. 21 , No. 2 (Summer 2000). http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol21no2/bader.html. (viewed 12/29/2011)
“Health and Medicine in the 19th Century,” LIFE IN THE 19th CENTURY. http://www.localhistories.org/19thcent.html (viewed 12/29/2011)
Landers, John. DEATH AND THE METROPOLIS Studies in the Demographic History of London, 1670-1830. Cambridge Books On-Line. The Autumn Diseases and the ‘putrid sore throat’ pp. 363-364. http://ebooks.cambridge.org viewed 12/29/2011
MedicineNet.com, http://www.medicinenet.com (viewed 1/82012)
Rudy’s List of Archaic Medical Terms. http;//www.antiquusmorbus.com/English/EnglishP.htm (viewed 12/29/2011)
An avid reader, Lauren Gilbert has always dreamed of writing books, and has written all her life. She enjoys non-fiction (especially history) and fiction alike. Favorite authors include James Thomas Flexner, Alison Weir, Diana Gabaldon, Dorothy Sayers and, of course, Jane Austen. Lauren is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, and has delivered presentations for chapter meetings, as well as a break-out session at the recent JASNA Annual General Meeting. Now semi-retired after a career spanning almost 30 years, HEYERWOOD: A Novel is her first published novel. Another novel and a non-fiction work are in process. Lauren Gilbert lives in Florida with her husband
The book and the giveaway
Power. Romance. Destiny. Step into Lauren Gilbert's Heyerwood and discover the journey of a young woman navigating the trials of Late Regency England: an arranged marriage, family, and love. A fairytale to delight austen fans, history buffs, and romance lovers alike, Heyerwood: A novel touches the heart.
If you live in the US or Canada, leave your comment or a question for Lauren Gilbert, add your e-mail address and get a chance to win a hardcover version of this intriguing Regency novel. The giveaway contest ends on January 20th when the winner is announced. Good luck!
- Lauren Gilbert's Website: http://www.heyerwood.com