This weekend the film Tulip Fever, based on the novel by Deborah Moggach, opens in New York City. The film was supposed to be made over a decade ago, and was to star Keira Knightley and Jude Law; it now features Alicia Vikander and Christoph Waltz. Set in the 17th century, the plot revolves around the zeal aroused by tulip speculation–hundreds of years ago fortunes could be made (and lost) by investing in the Oriental flower.  So far, the movie has received lukewarm reviews; it seems to be a bit dull and over-plotted. (Given the dour Dutch setting this isn’t surprising; Vermeer just made it look easy!)

Hester Prynne, a character in the novel Jane Eyre Gets Real, doesn’t understand the fuss. A survivor of the 1600s, she thought Tulip Fever was a real disease. When she heard it was coming to NYC, she rustled around some old recipe books and wooden boxes, eager to find a cure. In Hester’s time, pre-antibiotics, any fever was potentially fatal. Below is a list of some particularly nasty ailments and their common cures (from the article Disease and Illness in Regency England by I. A. Hilden:

Smallpox- virus causes blister bumps on the skin and in the mouth and throat, accompanied by a fever. If you get this disease and survive, you would not get it again. Believed to have emerged in 10,000 BC. A smallpox rash was found on Pharaoh Ramses V of Egypt. It can cause blindness due to ocular scarring. Eighty percent of children who contracted this disease died. It is airborne and easily inhaled or transmitted through bodily fluids. One of the first vaccinations ever created was for smallpox in 1798.

Pleurisy-is an inflammation of the lungs that produces a hacking cough and sharp chest pain. Respiratory infections and pneumonia are the main causes of pleurisy. Milk Weed- helps to relieve breathing difficulties, ease pain, and lessen inflammation. Leeches- applied to rib cage where the pain was located.

Yellow Fever-a tropical disease spread by mosquitos. It usually occurred in seaports and carried flu like symptoms. This disease killed many British soldiers in the West Indies. Severe cases led to kidney and liver failure. Bloodletting, cold baths, and a calomel and James’s powder purge. Often bled 4-5 times in a 30-hour period.

Croup- this name applied to many illnesses at the time, including diphtheria. This disease
occurred with children, leading to hoarseness and coughing. Severe cases led to convulsions and death. Nowadays we say the patient is barking like a seal when they contract this virus. Croup causes inflammation in the upper airways. The disease often begins with signs of the common cold. White Horehound Syrup was used to alleviate the cough and lung trouble. 

Typhoid Fever-brought on by consuming food or water that has been contaminated by human waste either directly or through flies. Could lead to delirium and death if untreated. Often accompanied by a rash that is similar to Typhus. It has four stages with a variety of terrible symptoms. Sanitation and education is the way to prevent it. Bloodletting and Calomel- Calomel is Mercury and it acts as a purgative and kills bacteria. It also does irreversible damage to the patient.

As summer chills into fall, be sure to wrap up warm, and pick up a bouquet of tulips from your local florist. If chicken soup is good for the body, flowers feed the soul.

 

 

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