Re: "White Plague"
JOHN LANGDON (LANGDON@GANDLF.UINDY.EDU)
Thu, 3 Nov 1994 16:39:06 -0500
In message writes:
> Are there any medical anthro people out there (or anyone else) who
> can tell me why tuberculosis has been termed "The White Plague"?
> Audrey Voss
I recently read Dubos' The White Plague. I gather from it that the term refers
to the pallor of invalids suffering from the disease. I quote (p. 10):
"It was probably to soften the sharp edge of the tragedy of premature death that
the sinking of tuberculous youth was referred to as 'going into a decline.' But
as the number of deaths mounted throughout the first half of the century, it
became obvious that the gravity of the disease could no longer by conealed under
genteel but misleading expressions. Tuberculosis was 'The Great White Plague,'
threatening the very survival of Europe."
The association of pale color with TB is emphasized repeatedly in the text. It
was romanticized, as this passage indicates (p. 58):
"I look pale," said Byron, looking in the mirror."I should like to die of a
"Why?" asked his guest.
"Because the ladies would all say, 'Look at that poor Byron, how interesting he
looks in dying."
It also became fashionable for individuals to whiten their faces with makeup as
the image of the consumptive replaced such robust ideal as the Marianne of the
French Revolution. This is directly connected with the esthetic appeal of
consumptives (p. 54).
JOHN H. LANGDON email LANGDON@GANDLF.UINDY.EDU
DEPARTMENT OF BIOLOGY FAX (317) 788-3569
UNIVERSITY OF INDIANAPOLIS PHONE (317) 788-3447
INDIANAPOLIS, IN 46227