Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
Link to Danielle Conlin's Senior Art Thesis
~  Danielle  Conlin ~

Tuberculosis in Nineteenth-Century England

Anne Brontė: Realism and the Roles of Nineteenth-Century Women

Anne  Brontė
The nineteenth century was a period of Romanticism, and it was also a period when tuberculosis ravaged English society. Tuberculosis had afflicted ancient peoples, long before it became recognized. The disease mainly infected the lungs, but it also attacked other areas of the body, such as the skin and spine. It was difficult to diagnose because of its ability to infect its victims and inhibit their immune systems before people realized their state of infection. Many people connected tuberculosis with romanticism and believed that death by this disease was a romantic way to die. Wealthy individuals who had not been struck with the disease were even jealous of the pale and delicate appearance of those who had been infected; it was considered beautiful in the nineteenth century. Soon the disease transformed from being a romantic way to die into a horror for people in England. Physicians responded by creating hospitals called sanatoria that were specific to treating people with tuberculosis. Robert Koch, one of the six Pioneers of Medicine, perfected the study of the disease and discovered Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the disease causing bacteria. Tuberculosis took the lives of the wealthy, the impoverished, and many influential writers. John Keats and Anne Brontė were both writers who lived during the nineteenth century when this epidemic was destroying the lives of the majority of people in England.

Anne Brontė was born on January 17, 1820 and died from tuberculosis in 1849. Her novels and poems focus on the realities of falling in and out of love, painful realizations, and societal restrictions on women, which are contrary to the uplifting endings of her sisters’ works. Her struggles through life, such as the tubercular deaths of family members and her love interest, seem to have influenced her realistic but dark ideas about the impermanence of love and the limitations of women. She finished only two novels and a selection of poems in her short life, but she set herself apart from her sisters by focusing on those who fall victim to life’s problems and restrictions rather than those who overcome them.

Major Works Consulted:

Bronte, Anne. Agnes Grey. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2005.
---.The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2006.
Dormandy, Thomas. The White Death: A History of Tuberculosis. New York: New York UP, 2000.
Hays, J.N. Epidemics and Pandemics: Their Impacts on Human History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2005.
Photo Credit: Bronte Anne. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2006.