Tuberculosis in popular culture

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Through its affecting important historical figures, tuberculosis has influenced particularly European history, and become a theme in art – mostly literature, music, and film.

Portrayals[edit]

Opera and theatre:

Novels:

  • The latter half of Erich Maria Remarque's novel Three Comrades focuses on Patricia Hollman's love of life in light of her ultimately futile struggle with tuberculosis.
  • Tuberculosis patients were frequent characters in 19th century Russian literature, examples of which include Katerina Ivanovna from Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Kirillov from Dostoevsky's Demons (aka The Possessed), and Ippolit and Marie from Dostoevsky's The Idiot.
  • Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain takes place at a sanitarium where all the characters suffer from tuberculosis.
  • In the novel The Constant Gardener by John le Carré, as well as in the movie adaptation directed by Fernando Meirelles, the plot largely revolves around TB drugs beings tested on unwitting subjects in Africa, and dire predictions about a global pandemic of a drug-resistant form of the disease appear repeatedly.
  • Richard Yates, (1926-1992), the American writer, suffered from TB shortly after WWII, and wrote about the disease in a number of his short stories, including "No Pain Whatsoever"
  • Fantine in Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables becomes ill and ultimately dies from "consumption".
  • Smike in Charles Dickens' novel Nicholas Nickleby dies from the "dread disease"
  • In A. J. Cronin's novel, The Citadel, the idealistic protagonist, Dr. Andrew Manson, is dedicated to treating Welsh miners suffering from tuberculosis and later assists a TB specialist in successfully performing a pneumothorax on a girl who is dying from the disease.
  • Sheilagh Fielding in Wayne Johnston's The Colony of Unrequited Dreams has tuberculosis, despite her father being a doctor, which brings shame upon her family in Newfoundland.
  • Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle portrays tuberculosis as common among bovine in the meat-packing plants of Chicago; consumption is a common illness for packers.
  • Marie-Claire Blais's Une Saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel (A Season in the Life of Emmanuel), 1965, features a teenaged main character, Jean-le-Maigre ("Skinny John") whose exploration of his gay sexual orientation in traditional rural Quebec is cut short by his death from tuberculosis.
  • In Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January series, Benjamin's friend and colleague, the violinist Hannibal Sefton, has relatively advanced pulmonary TB.
  • Raistlin Majere of the high fantasy Dragonlance series is afflicted with a magical illness that closely mirrors tuberculosis.
  • In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Johnny Nolan's eldest brother Andy becomes ill and dies from "consumption".
  • In Anne of the Island, the third book of the Anne of Green Gables series, Ruby Gillis, one of Anne's childhood friends, dies of "the galloping consumption".
  • W. Somerset Maugham's short story "Sanatorium", set in the north of Scotland, concerns the lives, deaths and outlooks of a series of tuberculosis sufferers.

Nonfiction

Film:

  • In the film The Citadel, Robert Donat's character, Dr. Andrew Manson, is dedicated to treating Welsh miners suffering from tuberculosis and later assists a TB specialist in successfully performing a pneumothorax on a girl who is dying from the disease.
  • In the film Heavenly Creatures, directed by Peter Jackson, Juliet Hulme had TB, and her fear of being sent away 'for the good of her health' played a large role in determining the subsequent actions of herself and Pauline Parker.
  • In the film Moulin Rouge!, Nicole Kidman's character Satine dies of consumption at the end of her biggest performance.
  • In the first Zatoichi movie, Ichi's opponent Hirate has TB, which causes him to wish to die fighting Ichi.
  • In the film There Will Be Blood Daniel Day-Lewis's character's brother allegedly died of TB.
  • In the film The Others a few of the secondary characters die from TB.
  • In the film Tombstone the character Doc Holliday is referred to as a "lunger", and TB motivates his actions throughout the film. He dies of consumption near the end of the film.
  • In the 1936 film Camille Greta Garbo portrays Marguerite Gautier, who dies from tuberculosis.
  • Drunken Angel, a 1948 film by Akira Kurosawa, is the story of a doctor (Takashi Shimura) who is obsessed with curing tuberculosis in his patients, including a young yakuza (Toshirō Mifune) whose illness is being used by his organization as a biological weapon.
  • In the film The Bells of St. Mary's, Ingrid Bergman portrays Sister Superior Mary Benedict, a nun who suffers from tuberculosis.

Graphic art:

Sculpture:

  • The Permanent Collection of the American Visionary Art Museum includes a life-size applewood sculpture of a human with a sunken chest depicting TB. It is the only known work by an anonymous patient in an English asylum who died of TB in the 1950s.

Music:

  • Jimmie Rodgers (1897 - 1933), country music singer, sang about the woes of his tuberculosis in the song "T.B. Blues" (co-written with Raymond E. Hall) which he recorded on January 31, 1931, at San Antonio, Texas. He also recorded Whippin’ That Old T.B. in 1932, but ultimately died of the disease days after a New York City recording session.
  • Van Morrison's song "TB Sheets" (from the 1974 album of the same name) is about the narrator nursing a girl, who is dying of tuberculosis. The song is a reworking of the TB theme in American blues music.
  • The Los Angeles hardcore punk band Tuberculosis chose their name after one of their members was diagnosed with TB.

Anime and manga:

  • Peacemaker Kurogane character Okita Soji has tuberculosis, as did the historical man of whom this character is a fictional portrayal.
  • The same goes for the Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto character Okita Soji who is shown in the last stages of his illness.
  • The anime Gintama also features Okita Sougo who is based on Okita Soji but here it is his sister, Okita Mitsuba who suffers and ultimately dies from tuberculosis.
  • Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle character Kurogane's mother also suffered from tuberculosis and as a result of her failing health she was unable to protect the borders of her country from any invading monsters.
  • Takenaka Shigeharu, also known as Hanbei and based on the historical Japanese samurai, is shown in the anime second season of Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings as suffering from tuberculosis, a weakness that ultimately leads to his death at the end of the series although it is not clear which disease the historical character actually suffered from.
  • The Shimabara Arc of Rurouni Kenshin features Magdalia Sayo, who has tuberculosis (described as "consumption"), perhaps obtained from her mother, weakened from the same illness. Her illness is the only illness her brother Shogo Amakusa, trained in Western medicine, was unable to cure. Kenshin's teenage rival Okita Soji, a fictionalized counterpart of the historical First Division Captain of the Shinsengumi, was shown to have been suffering from this illness (by coughing blood) during a flashback in the first chapter of the Kyoto Arc; said illness was the reason why the two never actually battled one-on-one in hand-to-hand combat (Third Division Captain and fellow historical figure Hajime Saito confronted Kenshin in Okita's place instead) despite being acclaimed as the two strongest swordsmen active during the Bakumatsu era.
  • In the manga Blade of the Immortal the most talented fighter in the series, Makie Otono-Tachibana also suffers from tuberculosis.

Videogames:

  • In the Samurai Shodown series of videogames, Ukyo Tachibana is depicted to be at times coughing out blood, which is a symptom of tuberculosis. In order to heal himself of his illness, he sought the Ultimate Flower. However, out of gratitude, he presented it instead to his confidant Kei Odagiri. He later found another way to cure his illness, but he instead gave it to his final lover, Saki (when Kei married another man), and died of the illness.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "The Sick Child". Works from the collection. The Munch Museum. Retrieved 2006-05-08. 
  2. ^ Bertman, Sandra L (19 November 2003). "Art Annotations: Munch, Edvard - The Sick Child". Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database. Retrieved 2005-05-08.