Tuberculean Chic: How the White Plague Shaped Beauty Standards in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Marissa and Sarah discuss Georgians’ and Victorians’ love affair with Tuberculosis and the tuberculean aesthetic in fashion and art. In Georgian London, some diseases started to seem fashionable, desirable even. Gambling was popular, elites were using snuff and drinking spirits, powdering their hair, whitening their faces with toxic creams, damaging their bodies with restrictive clothes and hairstyles. Ladies of fashion were perceived to be particularly vulnerable to disease and this made them even more attractive. This is the context where tuberculosis first began shaping beauty standards. The Victorians took this even further. Pre-Raphaelite painters, their models, and the discovery of the tubercle bacillus germ brought new classed and gendered meanings to the tuberculean chic.

A thank-you to Carolyn Day and Amelia Rauser whose work was invaluable in producing this episode.

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Show Notes & Further Reading

Brandt, Chris. “Tuberculosis And Its Impact On Medicine, Research, And Fashion Trends.University Herald. 

Byrne, Katherine. Tuberculosis and the Victorian Literary Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Day, Carolyn A., and Amelia Rauser. 2016. “Thomas Lawrence’s Consumptive Chic: Reinterpreting Lady Manners’s Hectic Flush in 1794”. Eighteenth-Century Studies. 49, no. 4: 455-474.

Denoyelles, Adrienne. “Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free: Tuberculosis in Progressive Era New York City.” Nursing Clio. 

Dubos, René J., Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz, and Jean Dubos. The White Plague: Tuberculosis, Man, and Society. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1996.

Fleming, R. S. “Victorian Feminine Ideal; about the perfect silhouette, hygiene, grooming, & body sculpting.”

Goetz, Thomas. “When TB Was a Death Sentence: An Excerpt From ‘The Remedy,’” The Daily Beast. 

Helsinger, Elizabeth. “Pre-Raphaelitism.” The Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature. Felluga, Dino Franco, Pamela K. Gilbert and Linda K. Hughes (eds). Blackwell Publishing, 2015. Blackwell Reference Online. 07 April 2017.

Mullin, Emily. “How Tuberculosis Shaped Victorian Fashion.” Smithsonian Magazine. 

Rothman, Sheila M. Living in the Shadow of Death: Tuberculosis and the Social Experience of Illness in American History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

 

 

 

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