Showing posts with label 1800s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1800s. Show all posts

31 December 2017

Frankenstein

by Leigh Lundin

Frankenstein
When it’s New Years, folks think Frankenstein.

At least in 1818. Two hundred years ago tomorrow, famed writer Mary Shelley wrote her monstrously famous story.

A Literary Volcano

It was a dark and stormy summer, 1816, rather the year without summer. Fourteen months earlier in the Dutch East Indies, Mount Tamboro blew nearly a mile off its top, 1450 metres, the most powerful volcanic explosion in recorded history.

Twelve thousand people were killed immediately. Another 60 000 to 80 000 subsequently died of starvation.

Volcanic ash erupted high into the atmosphere blanketing the skies. Southeast Asia was plunged into the blackness of night for over a week.

More than a year later in the eerie half light of the Northern Hemisphere, birds nested at noon. The Americas and Europe experienced massive agriculture failures. Zealots predicted the End Times were nigh. Switzerland was not immune.
“Never was a scene more awfully desolate. The trees in these regions are incredibly large, and stand in scattered clumps over the white wilderness; the vast expanse of snow was chequered only by these gigantic pines, and the poles that marked our road: no river or rock-encircled lawn relieved the eye by adding the picturesque to the sublime,”
recorded 18-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.

Kid Leigh, Mad Scientist
Frankenstein Jacob's Ladder (Leigh)
Frankenstein Jacob's Ladder (Leigh)
Frankenstein Jacob's Ladder (Leigh)
Frankenstein Jacob's Ladder (Leigh)
When I was a kid, I was an awesome mad scientist. Here are details from a Jacob’s Ladder– a traveling electrical arc prop seen in virtually every Frankenstein film– I built about the 6th grade. (Missing are ladder rails that look like television rabbit ears antennae, easily fabricated.) My brother Glen helped paint the original.
She would go on to write one of the most infamous monster tales in modern literature. Two days before her novel was published, she married another writer and poet she’d been living with for two years, Percy Shelley. Mary Godwin became Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.

A Charming House of Horror

In that non-summer of 1816, Percy Shelley rented a house near Lake Geneva for himself, his fiancée Mary, their toddler son ‘Wilmouse’ (William), and her six-month younger stepsister, Claire Clairmont, sometime lover of (and pregnant by) Lord Byron (yes, THAT Lord Byron) who happened to rent a nearby villa. His entourage included his physician, Dr John Polidori, who played a part in events that unfolded.

That dark and dreary summer turned out to be a platinum mine of ideas as these innovative geniuses sat around drinking and talking philosophy, politics, and poetry. As candles flickered and lightning slashed the sky, Lord Byron seized upon the frightening atmosphere. He proposed they each write a ghost story.

Early in the wee hours, Mary awoke from a nightmare. She’d dreamt of a mad scientist who sparked new life into a hideous figure. Within a day, certainly within a week, she began jotting initial notes of a story that would become world famous.

Lord Byron, while failing to meet his own challenge of a ghost story, nevertheless wrote his famous poem, Darkness. Meanwhile, Dr Polidori began writing a supernatural story of his own that would also become well known.

Under A Frankenstein Moon

A small but intriguing mystery surrounded the dates of Byron’s challenge and when the writers actually set to work. Researchers became interested partly because of the prominent writers and poets involved, but also as a sort of test of the veracity of Mary Shelley’s writings: Could her claims of events be taken as factual, or was she prone to exaggeration or invention?

Academics from Texas State University, including literary specialists, astronomers, and a faculty physicist, descended upon Cologny, a canton of Geneva. From clues in the notes of Mary and her companions, scholars were able to verify Shelley’s notes and further pinned down dates of events detailed in the table below.

Frankie and Friends

Fans of early monster movies noticed considerable cross-pollination, particularly in Universal Studio properties circa 1931-1954. Time and again, Frankenstein would appear in a Dracula film or vice versa, often with friends like the Invisible Man, the Wolf Man and the Mummy (respectively starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, and Lon Chaney Jr in the latter two rôles. These characters also appeared in Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Universal didn’t innovate the mixing and matching of monsters. I mention the Dracula character because that night in 1816 planted the germ of what would become the first modern, romantic vampire tale. Inspired by Lord Byron’s challenge, John Polidori began writing The Vampyre, eventually published in 1819.

Frankenstein
Here an unpleasant twist took place. Polidori showed the manuscript to Ekaterina, Countess of Breuss. Without the knowledge of Polidori, the countess, or more likely her friend, a Madame Gatelier, turned the story over to Colburn’s New Monthly Magazine, where it was serialized starting in April 1819 under Byron’s name: The Vampyre: A Tale by Lord Byron. Thereafter, it was published in book form, again failing to credit Polidori. Both men protested. By the second edition, Polidori’s name finally appeared as the author, but not before his premature death. Debt-ridden and depressed, Polidori had swallowed cyanide.

Three-quarters of a century later, Polidori’s story would influence an Irish writer, Bram Stoker. His renown novel, Dracula, appeared nearly eight decades after Polidori’s Vampyre.



Time Line and Context
    Notable 19th Century English Authors
1811 October 30
Jane Austen publishes Sense and Sensibility.
1813 January 28
Jane Austen publishes Pride and Prejudice.
1815 April 05-15
Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupts, most powerful volcano in written history, darkening skies nearly two years.
1816 June 15-16
Lord Byron challenges guests to write ghost stories.
1816 June 16-17
Byron’s physician, John Polidori, begins writing Vampyre.
1816 June 16
Mary Shelley experiences nightmare of scientist who breathes life into a terrifying figure.
1816 June 17
Mary Shelley begins outlining idea that would become Frankenstein.
1816 July 15
Lord Byron, influenced by the eerie summer’s half light, writes his apocalyptic poem Darkness.
1817 December 30
Mary Godwin marries Percy Shelley.
1818 January 01
Frankenstein is published by the firm of Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones.
1819 April 01
John Polidori’s story, the first modern vampire tale, The Vampyre, is published without Polidori’s knowledge or permission.
1821 August 24
Dr John Polidori dies without his authorship fully resolved.
1836-1870
Charles Dickens’ body of works spans 35 years.
1847 October 16
Charlotte Brontë publishes Jane Eyre.
1887 November 21
Arthur Conan Doyle sees publication of first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet.
1897 May 26
Bram Stoker publishes Dracula.
Happy New Year, 1818-2018!

30 March 2017

Bleeding, Sweating, Purging

by Eve Fisher

Or, as some people call it, the good old days of holistic medicine.

Seriously, these were all the standard medical treatment from ca 200 AD until the first use of antibiotics in the 1940s.  Nostalgia isn't what it's cracked up to be.  The truth is, standard medical practice between those dates probably killed more people than all the wars in history.  And it certainly makes for some interesting possibilities as far as historical murder, because how would you tell a homicide from a treatment?

The reason bleeding, sweating, and purging caught on was because of Galen, the most famous Greek physician of the Roman empire.  A legend in his own time, his writings survived the wholesale wreckage of ancient books and learning of the Dark Ages:  they were the major source of medical information for Byzantium and the Arabic Abassid Dynasty, and got reintroduced to the West in the 11th century as part of the treasures that the Crusaders brought / sent back to Western Europe.  His influence was so great that, when 13th century anatomists found differences between, er, actual anatomy and Galen's theories, they explained that the human body had obviously changed since the ancient world...

Anyway, Galen practiced medicine by humors, which has nothing to do with jokes.  According to this theory (which probably started back in ancient Egypt), humans are divided into four types:


18th c. woodcut - Wikipedia
  • Sanguine (enthusiastic, active, and social) - ruled by their blood, which Galen believed was manufactured in the liver.  Element, air; season, spring, infancy - warm and moist
  • Choleric (short-tempered, fast, or irritable) - ruled by yellow bile, which came from the spleen.  Element, fire; season, summer, youth - warm and dry
  • Melancholic (analytical, wise, and quiet) - ruled by black bile from the gallbladder.  Element, earth; season, autumn, adulthood - cold and dry
  • Phlegmatic (relaxed and peaceful) - ruled by phlegm, made in the brain/lungs.  Element, water; season, winter, old age - cold and wet  

(There were also astrological aspects to all of this).  

Anyway, all your ills, moods, "humors", etc., were based on an imbalance of the blood, bile, phlegm. So the obvious thing to do was the cleanse you so that your body could rebalance.  (A lot like the eternal craze for juice fasts, fad diets, and high colonics...)  Thus, bleeding, sweating, and purging.

Folks, all I can say is that we are living in the best time to be ill in history.  Back during the plague years, one physician infamously said, bleeding patient after patient, "Plague, I will cure you by bleeding!"  All the patients died, but he soldiered on, knowing that eventually it would work.  And doctors continued on the same path until very modern times.  Louis XIV's oldest son, the Grand Dauphin, grandson (the Duke of Burgundy), and his wife, the Duchess, and their oldest son, the Duke of Brittany, all died within a year and a half because their doctor tried to cure smallpox and measles with bleeding.  The result was that two entire generations of the royal family were wiped out and the future Louis XV became the Dauphin at the ripe age of five.  (This was, in case, you don't know it, a disaster:  "Apres moi, le deluge".)

Throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th century, heart attack patients were bled; young girls suffering from "green sickness" were either bled or advised to have sex; Marianne Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility was bled when she obviously had pneumonia.  And, aside from illness, it was largely believed that everyone should be bled regularly, to help balance their humors:  monks and nuns were bled about four times a year. The only real change over the centuries was that, instead of using leeches, doctors actually performed a phlebotmy using special lancets or knives.

Photo of Bloodletting in 1860 -
Wikipedia
By the 19th century, "One British medical text recommended bloodletting for acne, asthma, cancer, cholera, coma, convulsions, diabetes, epilepsy, gangrene, gout, herpes, indigestion, insanity, jaundice, leprosy, ophthalmia, plague, pneumonia, scurvy, smallpox, stroke, tetanus, tuberculosis, and for some one hundred other diseases. Bloodletting was even used to treat most forms of hemorrhaging such as nosebleed, excessive menstruation, or hemorrhoidal bleeding. Before surgery or at the onset of childbirth, blood was removed to prevent inflammation. Before amputation, it was customary to remove a quantity of blood equal to the amount believed to circulate in the limb that was to be removed." (Wikipedia, Bloodletting)  

There are fewer references to sweating than to bleeding.  The main one I can think of is in Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, where a naughty little boy gets stung by a whole nest of wasps, and is slathered with mud, and bound up in sheets and left to sweat the poison out.  It apparently worked, because he survived.  When I was a child, if I had a fever, I had blankets piled up on top of me to make the fever break by sweating it out.  And, of course, sweat lodges, hammams, and saunas all operate on the theory of making you sweat, thereby cleansing you, both inside and out.

And purging is everywhere in the literature, from diaries to novels.  My mother, born in 1917, believed that in spring you need to eat purging foods and/or take a thorough laxative to cleanse the body.  In Jack Larkin's invaluable The Reshaping of Everyday Life 1790-1840, he describes a world of hard work, much fun, and horrifying medicine.  "Bleeding and blistering, purging and puking" were the standard remedies for EVERYTHING.  And they were the kind of thing that your average frontier citizen in America could do at home, for themselves, using plants, herbs and (sometimes) kerosene.  (No, I am not kidding.)  Thus when Zadoc Long's wife suffered what was probably a nasty gallbladder attack, he gave her a strong emetic made of thoroughwort to "puke her".  (88-92)

What about medicine?  Well, there wasn't much.  Quinine did work on malaria, but it was also given for almost any "ague", or recurring fever.  One of the most widely used drugs was calomel, mercurous chloride, which was used for such things as syphilis and yellow fever.  It didn't cure either of them, but it gave wonderful proof that it was strong medicine:  mercury [poisoning] made people salivate like a mad dog, then lose their teeth, and perhaps their hair.  A thorough purging indeed.  And let us not forget alcohol. Whenever you read in the literature about someone being given "cordials" that is some form of alcohol.  A lot of people died in a prescribed drunk.  Supposedly Oscar Wilde, being prescribed champagne on his deathbed, said, "I am dying as I have lived, above my means".

There were a few things that worked:   As I mentioned in a previous blog ("Arsenic and Old Lace") there was opium in its various forms, especially laudanum (alcohol and opium combined - the pause that refreshes and the mother's friend).  Cocaine was used as a numbing agent, a stimulate, and even, apparently as a cure for dandruff.  There was an effective smallpox inoculation, using live disease material.  This was risky, because many patients got smallpox from the inoculation, and some died.  Even more effective was Dr. Jenner's vaccination using cowpox, which ran far less risk of infection and death.  While smallpox was never eradicated (not enough people were either able to get the vaccination or were willing to run the risks), at least it became rarer.

Basically, before 1945, the best thing to do for your health was to choose your parents wisely.  And not get in accidents, wars, or be pregnant.  If you could survive birth, infancy, early childhood (all of which wiped out about 50% of the population), and then could manage to not die in accidents (a simple scratch could give you blood poisoning or tetanus), childbirth, epidemics or war, you could become very, very old.  And be remarkably healthy the whole time.  Eleanor of Aquitaine had 10 children, a complex and busy life, and still managed to live active and healthy until she was 82.  The philosopher Fontenelle (1657-1757) was known for his intellect and his womanizing.  (He said to Madame Helvetius, when he met her in his late 90s, "Ah Madame, if only I were eighty again!")  A medieval letter from a visiting priest to an abbey offered birthday wishes to Brother Narcissus, on the occasion of his 116th birthday.

Good genes?  Undoubtedly.  And darned little bleeding, sweating, or purging.