Sunday, July 21, 2013
The Hypochondriacs: NIne Tormented Lives
The Hypochondriacs is essentially a collection of biographical essays, connected by contemporary or retrospective diagnoses. While the sketches were interesting, the linkage was weak. A few (Charles Dickens springs to mind) fits our current definition of someone who interprets ordinary variations in health (or the effects of Victorian overindulgence) as deathly illnesses, and other were indeed ill (Florence Nightingale probably developed PTSD and/or brusellosis during the Crimean War). Others, like Glenn Gould, apparently had a variety of psychological problems besides hypochondria. Unsurprisingly, six of the nine hypochondriacs lived in the 19th Century, when ill health was a way for ladies to escape the tiring yet mindless round of social calls and for gentlemen to explain away the natural effects of a rich diet and sedentary lifestyle, and the most interesting sections of The Hypochondriacs describe how the definition of hypochondria has changed over the years.