Consumption and literature: the making of the romantic disease

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This book answers an important and unanswered question: How consumption – a horrible disease - came to be the glamorous and artistic romantic malady. It argues that literary works (cultural media) are not secondary in our perceptions of disease, but are among the primary determinants of physical experience. In order to explain the apparent disparity between literary myth and bodily reality, it examines literature and medicine from the Renaissance to the late Victorian period, and covers a wide range of authors and characters, major and minor, British and American (Shakespeare, Sterne, Mary Tighe, Keats, Amelia Opie; Clarissa, Little Eva). Lawlor shows that consumption’s symptoms made it a suitable disease for the Christian Good Death and a disease of love. These two discourses of consumption and the rise of sensibility and nerve medicine arrived at the moment of Romantic consumption and developed into the more Evangelical version of consumption in the Victorian era. The book was supported by AHRC research leave (matched-funding). Lawlor’s PhD student’s thesis, ‘Gender and Disease in eighteenth-century literature’ (Grant) relates to this research. Lawlor’s new project on fashionable diseases emerged from the questions posed by the book.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
Number of pages252
ISBN (Print)9780230020030
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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