Which diseases were the most glamorous?

March 31, 2012 — 42 Comments

Yes, yes, I know. Disease isn’t glamorous. You know that, and I know that. But tell that to the people in other centuries. Even though most diseases were regarded in history much the way they are today, some ailments had cachet.

So which ones could theoretically allow the sufferer to convalesce attractively in a day bed?

Gout. A very painful type of acute arthritis brought on by excess consumption of rich foods and alcohol. Gout was called “the disease of kings” because it was something only wealthy people had—they were the only ones who could afford such delicacies. If you had gout, you were obviously a privileged person. And thus, glamorous.

Consumption. This was what they used to call tuberculosis—a deadly and deeply unpleasant disease. But how many stories, paintings, and operas have there been in which our heroine died from consumption? Plenty. In fact, consumption was called “the romantic disease.” That’s massively glamorous.

Melancholy. Better known as depression. Theories on its causes ranged from demonic possession to an excess of what was called “black bile” (which was thought to be produced by the spleen). Starting in the 16th century, melancholy was actually seen as a desirable thing because it marked the sufferer as especially sensitive and thoughtful, and often, more creative. Very glamorous indeed.

The Vapors.  Not technically a disease, more of a symptom. And curiously, the vapors were always suffered by women. Because, you know, the “fairer sex” was just more prone to dainty fits and fainting spells. Fever, fatigue, anxiety, and PMS, among other things, could all be ascribed to the vapors. The classic Victorian image of a woman with the vapors is one in which she’s swooning on a couch. How much more glamorous can you get?

On the flip side, men often used the vapors as a diagnosis for women who were headstrong, didn’t obey their husbands, or were somehow “too emotional.” Which is not just unglamorous, it’s also misogynist crap.

42 responses to Which diseases were the most glamorous?


    Dear M. Weebles,
    I’ve often thought I was born in the wrong class, in the wrong century. I should have been the mad, wild-eyed aunt living in the west wing, writing and painting and sketching and scaring my nieces and the servants away with my incessant howling.
    Love Dotty xxx



    I like this idea. When my time machine is ready, we’ll take a trip to 1825 or so. You can have the tower rooms in the west wing. I’ll be on the fainting couch in the parlor.



    I’ve always had a hankering for ‘elephanatiasis’ … not that I’d want it everywhere though.



    I’ve seen men with misogynist crap, it looks very uncomfortable.



    Wow, I never knew it was rich food and alcohol that brought on gout. Many of my peers should be suffering that one momentarily. Glad consumption made your list, not that I personally find tortured arty types hacking up blood in hankies very romantic. In this day and age I find the proliferation of tattoos almost on the level of a disease. Stay cool!



    They used to institutionalize women going through menopause. How glamorous is that?



    I’d like to catch the diamond flu.



    I’m gonna go with the vapors, just because it’s a nice catch-all. I’ve been looking for a good illness, lately, to get me out of social obligations and such. I think I’ll re-introduce the vapors and see how it goes.



      I agree wholeheartedly, Grippy. But you’ll need a hanky or two, and you’ll need to practice putting the back of your hand against your forehead and looking forlorn. Work it!



    hey, hey, hey I didn’t see Creeping Eruption on the list. A living poo-parasite making an artistic henna-type tatoo on your body?



    I have “the fumes” quite often. Symptoms include widening of the eyes, raising of the eyebrows, visible ear steam, and growling. It’s not too glamorous, but everyone stays away from me when The Fumes are coming on, and that does afford me the luxury of time to myself.



    Melancholy and vapors — they’ve got my name all over them and appear to be very glam.



    Love it! I’m with Brigitte — those two diseases — fabulous!



    The clap just doesn’t fit the bill then? There could be some glamour involved, before the unpleasantness sets in!




    My personal favourite was one of the treatments for hysteria, whereby a doctor relieved the symptoms by means of, um, hands-on therapy. Some of the more forward-thinking doctors even had a specialized machine to do the dirty deed: a steam-powered contraption with lots of pulleys and driveshafts and so forth. And so began the era of “adult toys”…



    Huh. I do know a couple of people with gout and, guess what? They’re all pretty well off. And, from here on in, I’m going to suffer from The Vapours on a regular basis, as I can’t think of much better to do than swoon on a couch.

    It’s also cooler here today, so I don’t have to be lazy about my blog reading.



      See? Gout is glamorous.

      I applaud your decision to have Chronic Vapors. It’s really the most sensible thing to do. I’m glad it’s cooler there today but that’s no reason you can’t still lounge appealingly yet helplessly on the couch.


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