From Faint to Saint : Blog Of The Nation Today we've got a Q&A about the tuberculosis scare (TBQ&A), which got me thinking... while this is a rather terrifying disease, it's also been tapped by

From Faint to Saint

Today we've got a Q&A about the tuberculosis scare (TBQ&A), which got me thinking... while this is a rather terrifying disease, it's also been tapped by countless authors as the best way to kill off a tragic heroine. It's the most romantic (not to mention the least feminist) of all diseases -- in literature it's more of a social disease. From opera to film, there's nothing like a poor, frail, woman sanctified by tuberculosis. The French are really best at this (I'm open to argument on that, though); think Fantine in Les Miserables. You know the drill; first, the gal must be a courtesan, not at heart, you understand, but by circumstance. Poor sainted Fantine works her tail off in the factory, until she loses her job and is forced into the oldest profession. Poverty and disease strike next, and the next thing you know she's achieved ultimate morality -- by ultimate mortality. It's odd, but TB really seems to occupy a unique place in nineteenth and twentieth century novels. Anyway, here, in no particular order, are my favorite fictional victims. I'm sure I'm missing some, so apologies to any coughing beauties I've missed.

Best Fallen Woman: Fantine, in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables (by the way, what a great book. It literally reads like a romance novel.)
Most Terrifying Death: Helen, in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (remember how Jane wakes up next to the deceased Helen? BTW, can you really get TB from a mean schoolmaster?)
Best Introductory Aria: Mimi, most famous in Puccini's La Boheme, but not surprisingly based on a French story (Henry Murgers Scenes de la Vie de Boheme)
Best Pre-Death Aria: Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata
Best Portrayal on Film: Marguerite Gautier (GARBO!!) in Camille (literally, this was like the 11th production of this story which La Traviata was also based on. The story? You guessed it-- French: La Dame Aux Camelias by Dumas.)
Most Shocking TB Death For Children: Beth, in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (Let me tell you, as an impressionable nine year old reading this book, this was a SHOCK, akin to finding Mary suddenly blind in the Little House books.)
Most Sainted (if that's possible): Little Eva in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin
Honorable Mention for Consumptive Male: Young Paul Dombey in Dickens' Dombey and Son
Author TB Shout-out: Emily Bronte, who not only created characters whom you really expected to die of TB, but sadly, died of TB herself at a very young age.