Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Writers' diagnoses …

… Book Review: Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough - WSJ.com. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Unsurprisingly, infectious diseases dominate Dr. Ross's literary ward round as they dominated all eras in which the germs that cause them were not understood and antibiotics not available. The usual suspects, syphilis (Shakespeare), gonorrhea (Joyce) and tuberculosis (the Brontës, Orwell), are joined by more exotic transmissible misfortunes such as yaws, a tropical disease that causes dreadful ulcers (London), and relapsing fever, or Brucellosis (Yeats). Bipolar disorder—in which frenzied productivity alternates with increasingly frequent crashes into depression—is plausibly ascribed to Melville, Hawthorne and London. Some of Dr. Ross's subjects seem also to have had mild autism, which made ordinary relationships agonizingly difficult. Their medical troubles were frequently compounded by heroic alcohol consumption, intended to mitigate their symptoms. Downwardly mobile parents and other childhood traumas also loom large in the literary C.V.


  1. The late Paul Fussell about 30 years ago reviewed the book Boswell's Clap and wondered at the confidence of the author, member of a profession that had not been able to diagnose a skin disorder of Fussell's despite having his person handy to inspect, poke, and take samples from.

  2. That's pretty funny, actually, though Paul was known to be something of a curmudgeon.