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By Allan Conrad Christensen

This interesting booklet examines the methods contagion - or ailment - tell and form a large choice of 19th century texts and contexts.

Christiensen dissects the cultural assumptions pertaining to sickness, health and wellbeing, impurity etc prior to exploring diversified views on key topics akin to plague, nursing and the sanatorium atmosphere and concentrating on yes key texts together with Dicken's Bleak House, Gaskell's Ruth, and Zola's Le Docteur Pascal.

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Sample text

These include Lucia of I promessi sposi and Grace Harvey of Two Years Ago, who seem even to be vehicles for the transmission, as their names imply, of divine illumination and grace. Also associated in this respect with light, Esther Summerson of Bleak House counteracts by her very presence anywhere the power of disease, as we are given to understand in her influence on Caddy Jellyby: Caddy had a superstition about me, which had been strengthening in her mind ever since that night long ago, when she had lain asleep with her head in my lap.

For Jameson and Ermarth the air that figures the medium in which history operates would therefore be even more palpably present than the angel that might signify the absent cause. Nineteenth-century writing frequently refers as explicitly as Munthe does to the omnipresent air that everyone breathes – and here we return to another of Douglas-Fairhurst’s points. The political exile Antonio Gallenga (who as friend of Ruffini, Italian tutor of Dickens, and author of a book approvingly summarized in Kingsley’s novel helps us establish them in ‘one system of mutual relevance’) believes that ‘the spirit of the age is Steam’.

History as contagion 19 ‘emotions and impressions as well as diseases [may] be contagious’. Not only in private meetings among friends, but in the theatre, for example, contagious germs are communicated. Actors exercise their power, according to a treatise that Vrettos cites, published by Alexander Bain in 1859, to ‘[manifest] emotion . . 50 When reading, as it is thus reasonable to speculate too, a person can be contaminated by a ‘poisonous’ book like the one mentioned in The Picture of Dorian Gray.

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