Tuberculosis, cancer, heart disease, blindness or near blindness, ulcerated skin, crippling arthritis, and deep depression are just a few of the afflictions suffered by this selection of great writers. In many cases the medical treatments they underwent were as dangerous as the diseases themselves. It's a wonder how these people got anything done at all, let alone produced enduring works of literature.
Ross, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, explains in an author's note that the idea for the book came to him while doing research for a presentation on the once infamous venereal disease syphilis. According to Ross, syphilis has become such a rare disease that many American physicians don't recognize its symptoms. Ross writes -- "I put together a Power Point talk on syphilis for medical grand rounds, and thought to tart it up with a few Shakespeare quotations, having a vague recollection from my undergraduate days that the Bard was fond of joking about the great pox."
|John J. Ross, M.D.
Some of the chapters in Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough first appeared in medical journals yet Ross writes in a light style aimed at the lay reader. For readers who want to go deeper the book offers a relatively extensive bibliography and endnotes.
Here is a sampling of the authors discussed and their medical histories.
Great Writers and the Illnesses They Suffered
(Courtesy of Crawford Art
|Bronte Sisters by
|Yeats at about age 40
(Photo Univ. of N. Carolina)
Here's More Information --
"10 Writers Physical and Mental Maladies." Huffington Post, 23 October 2012.
Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough Blog (about medicine and culture by John J. Ross).
The Committee Room. Time Spent with TCR is Never Wasted.