Disease and Death in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture

Disease and Death in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture: Fashioning the Unfashionable

This volume is one of the publications arising out of the Leverhulme Trust research project ‘Fashionable Diseases: Medicine, Literature and Culture, 1660–1832’, which was conducted between 2013 and 2016 by members of the English division at the University of Northumbria and of the History Department at the University of Newcastle. The purpose of the project was to investigate how certain diseases, some of them extremely unpleasant, or even destructive to life, became fashionable during certain periods, as ideas about culture and the valuation of specific modes of living, suffering and dying change. In the period of the project, for example, mental conditions such as melancholy continued, at least in certain circles, to enjoy a high degree of fashionability, as they had since the early seventeenth century, partly because of their association with intelligence and creativity, and subsequently with nerves and sensibility. More physically painful conditions, such as gout, or even some kinds of stomach ailment, such as biliousness and indigestion, could also acquire a fashionable profile, not least because they tended to arise from high living and the means to indulge continually in the finer things in life. Even consumption, a disease that was generally a death sentence, had a high level of social valuation: it was believed not only to bestow a measure of ethereality, and therefore of beauty, on the sufferer, but also to heighten the perceptions and to allow time to approach death with equanimity. Moreover, susceptibility to the disease was associated, as with melancholy, with individuals of heightened sensitivities.

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