There is a dread disease. . .which medicine never cured, wealth never warded off or poverty could boast exemption from; which sometimes moves in giant strides and sometimes at a tardy sluggish pace, but, slow or quick, is ever sure and certain. (Dormandy 92)
The above quote could apply to a plethora of illnesses that exist now or, have existed over the course of history. However, the scourge that the quoted material refers to is the disease formerly known as 'consumption' and now called by its medical name: Tuberculosis. The disease was rampant during the Victorian era in both America and Europe and still runs roughshod over many countries today. In fact, "the magnitude of the global TB problem is enormous" with a projected 11.9 million cases worldwide by the year 2005 (Frequently Asked, 6).
In the modern day, Tuberculosis is almost exclusively a threat to third-world and developing nations. It is hard, as members of a modern, industrialized nation, to understand TB's force and its worldwide ramifications without having done research of some sort on the disease. As Americans, the people of this country are almost absolved from feeling any affects of the disease whatsoever. It was not always this way.
In the mid to late nineteenth century America and Europe were both experiencing what has come to be called the 'Industrial Revolution'. Factories were replacing farmland in both countries, and with this came cramped conditions, backbreaking labor, and ultimately disease. That disease was Tuberculosis. "With poverty, malnutrition, overcrowding, vice, crime, and moral degradation it became not just a cause or consequence but part of the landscape of the Industrial Revolution" (Dormandy 73).
But it was not just a disease of the common man. During the late nineteenth century, Tuberculosis was a disease considered almost chic by many members of the upper class of society. Writers, actors, people who wanted to make impressions on others, often dressed in a manner befitting that of a consumption addled patient. "Young men of fashion had developed or professed to have developed a passion for pale young women apparently dying of consumption" (Dormandy 91).
This obsession with the disease also manifested itself in the lives of artists and writers from the Victorian era. To be consumed with the disease was to be consumed with passion, to be burning from within. Thus it was fitting that several poets afflicted with the disease professed to have done their most inspired work while suffering. One such man who became afflicted with the dread disease but did not react in quite the traditional 'romantic' way was Anton Pavlovich Chekhov.
Chekhov was diagnosed with the disease in 1897 at the age of thirty-seven, but knew that he was sick long before any doctor told him so (Koteliansky xvi). After all, Chekhov was...