cover of book

Symptoms of the Self: Tuberculosis and the Making of the Modern Stage
by Roberta Barker
University of Iowa Press, 2022
eISBN: 978-1-60938-862-1 | Paper: 978-1-60938-861-4
Library of Congress Classification PN1650.T78B37 2022
Dewey Decimal Classification 809.293561

Symptoms of the Self offers the first full study of the stage consumptive. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in France, Britain, and North America, tuberculosis was a leading killer. Its famous dramatic and operatic victims—Marguerite Gautier in La Dame aux Camélias and her avatar Violetta in La Traviata, Mimì in La Bohème, Little Eva in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Edmund Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey into Night, to name but a few—are among the most iconic figures of the Western stage. Its classic symptoms, the cough and the blood-stained handkerchief, have become global performance shorthand for life-threatening illness.

The consumptive character became a vehicle through which standards of health, beauty, and virtue were imposed; constructions of class, gender, and sexuality were debated; the boundaries of nationhood were transgressed or maintained; and an exceedingly fragile whiteness was held up as a dominant social ideal. By telling the story of tuberculosis on the transatlantic stage, Symptoms of the Self uncovers some of the wellsprings of modern Western theatrical practice—and of ideas about the self that still affect the way human beings live and die.

See other books on: Characters and characteristics in literature | Drama | Self | Symptoms | Tuberculosis
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